Ageism is Real
Personal Experiences Depict Prejudiced Reality.
I’ve been hesitant to write about job-related “ageism,” defined by
Merriam-Webster as simply “prejudice or discrimination against a
particular age-group and especially the elderly.” As a 64-year-old
seeking some kind of part-time or full-time work in the content
development job market (writing, editing, researching, designing,
publishing), I felt it would not be a wise decision to complain about
all the job opportunities I applied for but was not even getting
interviewed for, despite that I have more than 30 years of solid
experience and a host of knowledge and skills that have been fine-
tuned over the years. Firing off ageism complaints surely would not
serve any good purpose.
The Logic of Not Being Considered
At the same time, I felt a certain understanding as to why I wasn’t
getting any serious considerations from potential employers. Many
younger folks, I reasoned, probably have more of an aptitude for
content development that hits on the interests of the large combined
marketplace of GenXers, Millennials, and GenZers, through their own
first-hand experiences, than some old Boomer guy. Plus, wouldn’t it
be wiser for a prospective employer to hire a younger person for a
content development job simply to develop them into a proper and
long-standing employee? Additionally, most content development
positions are not exactly like STEM jobs, where high-skilled
candidates are in demand. The market is flooded with a wide choice
of talented, creative grads who can take on content development
positions in which they can learn the ropes relatively quickly.
So, it seemed to make sense that I was consistently being totally
ignored for jobs I applied for, even when I felt confident that my
qualifications and skills were an absolute perfect fit. The
conventional thinking that old folks are too set in their ways to
change and out of touch with the younger generations could be the
primary reason for being passed up. I can imagine an employer
thinking along those lines, and I reasoned that even I might feel that
way if I were the person ultimately in charge of hiring.
Deliberate Ageism Happens
But then my thinking changed when I started having blatant ageism
experiences during my extensive job-hunting expeditions over the
past year. I won’t name the companies where I experienced ageism,
other than to say I made it to the interview process a few times only
to be quickly rejected without good reason, and I was hired for one
temp position that I held for several months until the employer
decided to advertise for a new hire to do the work I was already
doing for them at a very high quality. Instead of keeping me on as a
permanent employee who had already learned the ropes, they hired
a novice, much younger candidate with about one-tenth of my
experience, communication skills, and know-how. That temp
experience felt like a boldfaced example of ageism – it was an
ageism incident that seemed provable, at least from my perspective.
But, there really wasn’t anything I could do about it, except move on
and keep trying, maybe taking a different job-hunting strategy. I
suppose I could file some sort of complaint, but what good would
For some reason I keep thinking about this famous Steve Jobs quote:
“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do;
we hire smart people, so they can tell us what to do.” That puts
everything I think about this ageism theme into one clear sentence.
Perhaps that is the best reason why an employer should take a
chance with an older hire – so they can have someone with beaucoup
experience tell them what they really need to know. Not in a bossy
way, but through kind suggestions . . .
A Commencement Speech for All Ages
I’m not the biggest fan of Steve Jobs, who was also known to be a
mercurial leader. But he’s on record for some very wise
proclamations, such as his Stanford 2005 commencement speech,
which is timeless, in my opinion. It’s the perfect speech for any job
seeker at any age.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward,” he said to the Stanford
grads. “You can only connect them looking backward. So you have to
have trust the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to
trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.” I find it
easy to feel this way as a 64-year-old job seeker.
Jobs also talked about when he was fired from Apple and started to
pursue other interests: “The heaviness of being successful was
replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about
everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of
my life.” I feel similar at this new stage of my early old age life, as
well, although I can’t imagine reaching the heights of a creative
endeavor like Pixar.
Finally, Jobs said, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want
to do what I am about to do today? And whenever the answer has
been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change
something.” True at any time in your life . . .
The Sad Truth
Despite all these grand statements that give one hope and
inspiration, the cold reality of not earning or having enough financial
security in your retirement years is hard and debilitating.
Unfortunately, millions of old adults are in this kind of sinking boat.
According to most up-to-date figures from the Kaiser Family
Foundation, 7.1 million adults ages 65 and older lived in poverty in
2016 (14.5 percent of total adults 65 and over). Who are they?
According to the Center for American Progress, most elderly poor are
women, people of color, and people living in rural areas. Some of the
causes of poverty include the dramatically increasing costs for
decent health care, consistently rising energy bills and rents,
increased isolation among low-income folks who do not have access
to transportation services, and predatory lending practices.
I would add ageism to that list of causes. The need for millions of
people to find some way to supplement their social security benefits
is real. Being shut out of job opportunities they more than qualify for
can be a devastating experience.
Why are they being shut out? The short answer: commonly believed
stereotypes about older adults. According to a recent Ladders career
advice article, there are at least five:
Older adults can’t learn new things.
Older adults are less productive.
Older adults take more sick time off.
Older adults will retire and leave.
Older adults are over qualified and inflexible.
Like all stereotypes, all five are false and misleading.
In a recent Guardian feature article headlined “The Ugly Truth about
Ageism: It’s a Prejudice Targeting our Future Selves,” writer Caroline
Baum quotes several experts on ageism from the U.S., UK and
Australia. For instance, the late Hal Kendig, a professor of ageing and
public policy at the Centre for Research on Ageing, Health and
Wellbeing at the Australian National University, touched on the
ubiquity of ageism globally. “Ageism,” he said, “has been found to be
all-pervasive across eastern as well as western cultures, including
Confucian-based Asian cultures…”
Anne Karpf, a British writer is quoted as saying “each time we see an
older person, we need to imagine them as our future self, and rather
than recoil from their wrinkles and infirmities, applaud their
resilience. We need to re-humanize older people.”
From the U.S., Ashton Applewhite, author of “This Chair Rocks: A
Manifesto Against Ageism,” who also is known for a popular TED talk
she gave in April 2017 that shows more than 1.3 million views, was
also quoted in the Guardian article. “No prejudice is rational,”
Applewhite says. “But with ageism, we have internalized it. We have
been complicit in our own marginalization and it will require active
consciousness-raising to correct that, just as the women’s movement
A Perhaps Feeble Attempt to Offer Solutions
So, I’m now at the point in this article where I’m struggling to say
something that nicely wraps all this up and offers a smart solution.
Yes, there are unfair old ager stereotypes. Yes, it’s understandable
that employers would prefer hiring youth over old age. And yes,
business is business, and oftentimes business arrangements are
unfair and one-sided.
Don’t believe all those articles claiming there are all kinds of jobs and
business opportunities for old agers out there in both the traditional
marketplace as well as the gig economy. Most are hogwash or
extremely low-paying, extraordinarily difficult, mundane, soul-
What can you do if you are a lower-class old ager seeking to
supplement your social security benefits to survive comfortably? I
think all you can do is keep working harder at trying to find
something, try not to get too frustrated and stressed out, experiment
with different job-hunting approaches, have faith in your authentic
self, and hope for the best. Oh, and save some money by not going
out for breakfast or lunch. There’s nothing enlightening about that,
but that’s all I can come up with at the moment.
been found to
as well as
- Hal Kendig