Ageism refers to the stereotyping of and discrimination against individuals or groups because of their age. It is a set of beliefs, attitudes, norms, and values used to justify age based prejudice and discrimination. This may be casual or systematic.

The term was coined in 1969 by US gerontologist Robert N. Butler to describe discrimination against seniors, and patterned on sexism and racism. Butler defined ageism as a combination of three connected elements. Among them were prejudicial attitudes towards older people, old age, and the aging process; discriminatory practices against older people; and institutional practices and policies that perpetuate stereotypes about older people

The term has also been used to describe prejudice and discrimination against teens and children, including ignoring their ideas because they are too young, or assuming that they should behave in certain ways because of their age.

Ageism commonly refers to negative discriminatory practices, regardless of the age towards which it is applied. There are several subsidiary forms of ageism.

Adultism is a predisposition towards adults, which is seen as biased against children, youth, and all young people who are not addressed or viewed as adults.

Jeunism is the discrimination against older people in favor of younger ones. This includes political candidacies, commercial functions, and cultural settings where the supposed greater vitality and/or physical beauty of youth is more appreciated than the supposed greater moral and/or intellectual rigor of adulthood.

Adultcentricism is the "exaggerated egocentrism of adults."

Adultocracy is the social convention which defines "maturity" and "immaturity," placing adults in a dominant position over young people, both theoretically and practically.

Gerontocracy is a form of oligarchical rule in which an entity is ruled by leaders who are significantly older than most of the adult population.

Chronocentrism is primarily the belief that a certain state of humanity is superior to all previous and/or future times.

Ageism may also lead to the development of fears towards certain age groups, particularly: Pedophobia, the fear of infants and children; Ephebiphobia, the fear of youth, and Gerontophobia, the fear of elderly people.

Ageism has significant effects on the elderly. The stereotypes and infantilization of older people by patronizing language affects older peopleÕs self-esteem and behaviors. After repeatedly hearing a stereotype that older people are useless, older people may begin to feel like dependent, non-contributing members of society. They may start to perceive themselves in terms of the looking-glass self--that is, in the same ways that others in society see them.

Studies have also specifically shown that when older people hear these stereotypes about their supposed incompetence and uselessness, they perform worse on measures of competence and memory. But, many overcome these stereotypes and live the way they want. These stereotypes then become self-fulfilling prophecies. Older people may also engage in self-stereotypes, or taking their cultureÕs age stereotypes to which they have been exposed over the life course and directing them inward toward themselves. Then this behavior reinforces the present stereotypes and treatment of the elderly.

It is very difficult to measure ageism. Very few studies have been conducted on the topic, and those that have tend to leave out some forms of ageism, such as implicit ageism and self-stereotyped ageism. These two forms are particularly hard to conceptualize. Of the studies that have attempted to measure the concept of ageism, many have been met with significant scrutiny because there are several factors, such as the social desirability bias, that may cloud the data.

In Freakonomics, Stephen LevittÕs surprise hit of 2005, the study of hidden (or "implicit") ageism was brought out of the psychologistÕs laboratory and into the TV studio. Levitt described how, in the US version of The Weakest Link, contestantsÕ voting decisions were, on average, biased against older panelists. At the stage of the game where it is in participantsÕ interests to vote for poor performers, older people were likely to be chosen even when younger adults had performed worse. But when contestants would benefit by choosing top-performing rivals (to eliminate the competition), they tended to choose lower-performing, older contestants. Subconsciously, the panelists simply did not want to be around older people.

Forms and manifestations of ageism

Government responses to ageism

In the News ...

The perils of ageism   PhysOrg - March 11, 2009
Ageism is still rampant in America, and many old people themselves trade in unflattering stereotypes of the elderly, including helplessness and incompetence. Such caricatures are not only false and cruel, they are also unhealthy. Research has shown that old people who believe in negative age stereotypes tend to fulfill them.