With the advancement of technology, society holds the capacity to preserve human civilization for longer periods of time due to the commercialization of agriculture and the improvement of healthcare. Increasing life expectancy has led to many societies that encounter higher percentages of the ages 65 and older in their age structures. Due to the greater presence of older ages in the populations of many societies, ageism has become embedded in societal norms. Ageism is the epidemic of contemporary societies because it hinders the advancement of society and places imperative negative impacts on the health and well-being of the elderly.
Societal norms have hidden the true significance and awareness of the concept of ageism. Ageism is defined as any attitude or action that subordinates a person or group because of their age, mainly older ages (Allen and Burwell 2). Gerontology is the study of old age and the processes and problems that are present in aging. Many different countries encompass aging adults with different perceptions. As seen in many Asian countries, such as China, Japan, and Vietnam, elders are taught to be respected and seen as being able to contribute vast amounts of knowledge and wisdom. Japan holds the highest percentage of population that is 65 and older worldwide which falls at about 27.87% (“The World Factbook: JAPAN”). Although elders are respected in Asian countries, ageism is deeply rooted in European and American cultures, more so the United States. Expanding demographics have illuminated aging and ageism in American society. By the year 2030, it is predicted that “one out of every five [people]” in the United States will be over 60 years old (Levison 3). By the year 2050, the United States will have an estimated amount of 15 million people that will be over the age of 85 alone (Rivlin 2). Ageism has been deeply rooted in American culture because American future is not “synonymous with old age” (Holmes 2-3). American future emphasizes youthfulness and vitality which leads to the diminished value of elderly people because they are perceived as the past.
Negative connotations towards elderly people have stimulated a surging increase of ageism. Ageism is strongly embedded in American societal norms because attitudes towards elderly people are formed at young ages. Many children do not perceive growing old as positive or look forward to growing old themselves (Murphey 4). Children believe that as people grow older they lose intelligence and the ability to learn, as well as become senile. American children that have grown in an ageist society are not “systematically taught to respect, revere, and care for older adults” and they are usually more likely to “undervalue older adults, minimize them, or treat them with contempt” (Holmes 8). These misperceptions of elderly people have also been used to influence legislation. Many ageist policies have led to the undermining of elderly people in terms of productivity of society and growth of the economy. Older workers experience discrimination from “organizational entry to exit” (Redman and Snape 4). Ageism often presents obstacles for elderly people in the working environment such as refused employment, dismission from jobs, lower salaries, or “denied promotions, training, or other benefits” (Redman and Snape 4). Ageism is also displayed within healthcare because age is seen as criterion for treatment rather than medical necessity. Many elderly people have similar responses to treatment as young people in terms of being fully recovered, alert, and productive (Rivlin 3). Constant stereotypes and misperceptions of elderly people has led to the increase of ageism and hindered the growth of society by undermining the productivity of older populations.
Although ageism has become increasingly prominent in society, ageism can be eradicated with educational reform. Society is ignorant towards ageist societal norms and education is the key to reversing common misperceptions among the elderly populations and helping society become more aware of this issue by approaching younger populations. Aging processes and ageism are often misinformed and misrepresented among younger populations, as well as many children are disclosed from contact with elderly people. Students aren’t presented with resource materials that emphasize the value of older adults or allow students to be aware of ageism. Many present textbooks, articles, and other resource materials ineffectively prepare students for recognizing reality and leave them secluded in an atmosphere of self-obsession and ignorance (Allen and Burwell 4). The media’s influence of emphasizing youthfulness also interferes with the advancement of society because it subverts the productiveness of elderly people by emphasizing youthful characters, as well as self-obsession among adolescents to avoid aging. Many books of adolescent literature in contemporary America show that there is a cultural similarity of older adults (Murphey 4). Older adults are often absent from the storylines and if they are present then they often have stereotypic roles or are partially developed. (Holmes 6). Education systems need to adopt curriculum that allows students to have exposure to gerontology (Stones 3). If students understand the processes of aging then they will be more empathetic towards older populations, as well as understand the reality of aging. There should also be counselor education training programs that include courses on gerontology, so that counselors can act as “catalysts to stop ageism and negative stereotypes” against older people tha is common among students (Murphey 8). Educational reform is the key to diminishing ageism from American culture and society in order to morph younger generations to value the elderly.
Ageism has negatively impacted society by undermining the ability of elderly people to aid the productiveness in the economy and imposing stereotypes that hamper the welfare and quality of life of the older populations. Ageism is integrated in American society but can be reversed by educational reforms and changing societal norms that are established through media influence and literature. Population mindsets must be geared to be aware of aging processes and establish value and respect for older populations, as well as the ability of older populations to prosper the growth of the economy and advancement of society.