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Goodbye Ageism

Is ageism the loser in 2020?

Who would have thought we’d see two septuagenarians battling for the presidency? It wasn’t so long ago that the Beatles’ hit “When I'm 64” revealed that 64 was considered old: “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?”

We’ve come a long way. These last four years we’ve been led by a 70+-year-old, and we now have elected a president who will end his first presidential term as an octogenarian. How did this happen? When was the glass ceiling of age shattered?

Age stigma has been changing with each decade. Try Googling “aging” and see what comes up. Roughly 20 years ago, I googled “old man” and the images that appeared were almost all of Santa Claus. Around 10 years ago when I googled “aging," all of the news article headlines highlighted frailty and vulnerability. Today, search results yield articles about healthy aging. Images of the 65+ set are of healthy, smiling men and women.

Fashion trends have also come a long way. Clothing was once a clear indicator of age. The polyester stretch outfits in pastel colors are long gone for older women, traded in for clothes that can be worn by any age. In fact, my 94-year-old mother-in-law has been known to wear yoga pants—the same kind I’ve seen teenagers wearing (and she looks great).

I haven’t seen men wearing Columbo-esque trench coats, shorts, and knee socks with shoes and other trends of the past lately either. These have been swapped out for the same athletic clothes that could easily be worn by someone decades younger.

We work much longer than we ever did, and although some are not happy about this change, many people prefer to work for as many years as they possibly can without worry of a mandatory retirement. According to the ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act), in most professions, forced retirement based on age is illegal.

Roughly 25 years ago, the ADEA was amended to protect anyone over 40 from being forced into retirement. Not only is this good for those who want to continue working, it is good for the workforce. Older employees have crystallized intelligence, which is an accumulation of a lifetime of knowledge and skills that younger generations simply don’t have.

So, where are we headed? We’re headed toward a more inclusive view of aging. A more fluid view of aging. Stigma is getting reduced with each decade and with time, the value of wisdom that comes with age will be explicitly valued and sought after. Experience will matter and age will be an asset.