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Have You Been the Victim of Age Stereotyping?

Have You Been the Victim of Age Stereotyping?

Picture of Harriet Hodgson

I was standing in a fabric store checkout line, putting change on the counter, when the sales associate said, "You have to count out four pennies." Her comment was demeaning. Did she think I was so demented I couldn't count coins? This is just one example of the age stereotyping I have encountered.

At age 76, I should be used to this stereotyping, but I'm not. It always takes me by surprise. Being stereotyped makes me defensive. I wanted to scream, "Do you know what I've done so far today? I've done the laundry, written an article, drafted a business letter, gone to the grocery store, shopped for a forthcoming trip, hemmed my slacks, read scores of emails, and the day is only half over."

Of course, I didn't say these things.

What is age stereotyping? The Elder Law website defines it in an article titled, "Stereotyping Prejudice." This form of stereotyping "allows an individual to categorize and organize groups of people into specified classifications, and to designate recognizable attributes to these classifications," the article explains.

Thankfully, I work at home and don't encounter any stereotyping. But many older adults face ongoing stereotyping at work. Though the Age Discrimination Act was passed in 1975, age discrimination still exists. Section 623 states that an employer can't refuse to hire or discharge a person due to age. Unfortunately, this legislation doesn't prevent age stereotyping.

Our society has many assumptions about older adults. One is that we are less productive than younger workers. This is true in some cases, but not all. Another assumption is that older adults can't take care of themselves. Older adults like me face age stereotyping at work (I face it in the book industry), in stores and restaurants. "Discrimination against senior citizens is one of the most common types of prejudice in the United States, and occurs in all arenas of life," according to the Elder Law website article.

Thankfully, things are starting to change. Dave Bernard describes the shift in his "US News" website article, "Retiring Baby Boomers Will Change Rules of Hiring." He thinks forced retirement will fade. Future employers will tap seniors' vast knowledge and experience. Seniors will opt for the flexibility of job sharing. "Many senior citizens are capable of working well beyond the age of 65 and ignoring this will be a costly mistake," Bernard summarizes.

How do you counter age stereotyping? For me, the best way is to continue to be productive. Giving talks about my books is another way. Though I come from a generation that was trained not to "brag," I have cast this thought aside, and stand up for myself and what I do. You can, too, starting today. Keep doing what you do well and enjoy every moment.

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