SCS DEI Update

Apr. 29, 2022

Ageism and Its Negative Consequences

The team ageism was coined over 50 years ago [1]. It describes the stereotyping of and discrimination against older adults. It is one of the most potent forms of bias today, and one of the least recognized. Structural ageism operates in society in a number of ways. Multi-billion-dollar "anti-aging" campaigns promote fear of aging by encouraging consumers to buy products aimed at removing the natural markers of aging; social media discriminates against older adults by excluding them from viewing certain offers and job listings [2]. Healthcare professionals simplify language about older patients' diagnoses and health [3]. In the workplace, managers are less likely to hire and offer training opportunities to older employees, and are more likely to fire or phase out older workers [4].

While ageism can result in discriminatory behavior and hurt feelings, a growing body of research shows that it can also affect one's physical and cognitive health and well-being, and even reduce one's life span [5]. In this work, loss of aging satisfaction is shown to be associated with subsequent physical health (e.g., heart disease), health behaviors (e.g., sleep problems), and psychological distress (e.g., depression).

The workplace would clearly benefit from ageism interventions. It is not sufficient to simply target negative age beliefs in individuals one at a time. Instead, an organization might start with a holistic understanding of how its members — older and younger, individually and collectively — communicate their attitudes, values and expectations to each other. An organization could also inspect potential ways in which they might discriminate against older people through existing policies and the actions of its members. A recent World Health Organization study concluded that institutional ageism often goes unrecognized because rules, norms and practices of an institution are often long-standing and seen as normal [6]. Therefore, an organization must also target discrimination at both its micro and macro levels with the goal of sustainable, visible change.


  • [1] Butler, R.N. (1982). The triumph of age: science, gerontology, and ageism. Bulletin of the NY Academy of Medicine, 58(4), 347-361. pmc/articles/PMC1808551/
  • [2] Levy, B R. (2022). Breaking the Age Code: How Your Age Beliefs Predict How Long and Well You Live. HarperCollins.
  • [3] Rogers, S.E. et al. (2015). Discrimination in healthcare settings is associated with disability in older adults. Health and Retirement Study, 2008–2012. J Gen Intern Med, 30(10): 1413-1420. doi:10.1007/s11606-015-3233-6
  • [4] Chang, E.S. et al. (2020). Global reach of ageism on older persons’ health: a systematic review. PLoS One, 15(1), e0220857. doi:10.1371/journal.pone. 0220857
  • [5] Levy, B.R. (2022). The Role of Structural Ageism in Age Beliefs and Health of Older Persons. JAMA Network Open, 2022. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih. gov/35138405/
  • [6] World Health Organization. (2022). Global report on ageism. Accessed January 7, 2022. social-determinants-of-health/ demographic-change-and- healthy-ageing/combatting- ageism/globalreport-on-ageism

Congratulations on reaching the end of the semester!

Thank you,
The SCS DEI Team