Study: Ageism considered the most common form of prejudice

A new study by a University of Alberta nursing professor says ageism is now thought to be the most common form of prejudice, and many people aren’t aware of how prevalent or impactful it is.

“A lot of societies are really youth-oriented now and don’t really respect or care about older people,” said Professor Donna Wilson, who conducted the study with fellow nursing professor Gail Low. The two nurses reviewed questionnaires used by researchers around the world to measure ageism and found they fell short of taking a comprehensive look at the problem.

There is widespread fallout from systemic blatant and subtle ageism, Wilson said.

“There’s a big personal impact,” she said. “Children see older people being disrespected and grow up thinking they’re useless and then they find themselves turning 60 or 65. We don’t expect or encourage healthy aging; everybody who hits 65 thinks it’s all downhill from here.

“If they think they’re useless and boring, how negative is that for them and their family? They don’t exercise, they don’t volunteer, they don’t keep working if they want to, because they feel this discrimination. They don’t go out and find a new mate if their spouse dies because they think ‘I’m next.’ There’s both a societal and personal impact to internalized ageism.”

In their review of all existing studies on the topic, Wilson found that 48 to 91 percent of all older people surveyed experienced ageism, and 50 to 98 percent of all younger people admitted to having discriminatory thoughts or behaviors toward older people.

Wilson said she believes there will have to be a social awakening, much like that of the gay rights movement.

“You can’t discriminate against people who are gay, and I’d like to see that happen for older people,” she said.

The University of Alberta study was reported by EurekAlert, the online publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.