Why ageism never gets old

“Ageism” was coined in 1969, two years after the Federal Discrimination in Employment Act set forty as the lower bound at which workers could complain of it.


  • The average life span grew more in the 20th century than in all previous millennia
  • By 2020, for the first time, there will be more people on Earth over the age of 65 than under the age of 5
  • Like the racist and the sexist, the ageist rejects an Other based on a perceived difference. But ageism is singular, because it’s directed at a group that at one point wasn’t the Other—and at a group that the ageist will one day, if all goes well, join. The ageist thus insults his own future self. Karma’s a bitch
  • Ageism stems from the perception that old people are irrelevant. We don’t just caricature the elderly as raddled wretches. We also caricature them as cuddly Yodas.
  • The TV show “Younger” deftly shows how the new ageism expresses itself as a question less of competence than of cultural fit.
  • The young can’t grasp that most older people don’t feel so different from their youthful selves.

Older people may not be qualitatively different from “youngers.” only 10% of Americans who are at least 85 live in nursing homes, and that half of those in that cohort don’t have caregivers; for the most part, they are cognitively robust, sexually active, and “enjoy better mental health than the young or middle-aged.

A representation issue:

  • A study of the films nominated for Best Picture between 2014 and 2016 showed that only 8% of the actors were sixty or older, although that age group constitutes 18.5% of the U.S. population.
  • Economists call this phenomenon, in which older women’s looks are judged more harshly than older men’s, the “attractiveness penalty.”
    • Tom Cruise, for instance, was 3 years younger than his “Risky Business” co-star Rebecca De Mornay, in 1983, but lately he’s been as much as 20 years older than his female co-stars.
    • Two years ago, Maggie Gyllenhaal, at 37, was told she was “too old” to play thelove interest of a 55-year-old man.
    • As Goldie Hawn’s aging-actress character observed in “The First Wives Club,” “There are only three ages for women in Hollywood: babe, district attorney, and ‘Driving Miss Daisy.’ ”
    • Last year, California passed a law requiring sites such as IMDb, the movie and TV-show database, to remove people’s birth dates upon request.

The Valley’s denizens, despite their sloganeering about worldwide empowerment, secretly believe that tech creates a series of moats in which digital immigrants eventually drown. Cord-nevers look down on cord-cutters, who look down on landliners, who look down on TV-setters, who look down on AOL-addressees