‘Age has no reality except in the physical world. The essence of a human being is resistant to the passage of time’.
On this note, I would like to introduce a very common phenomenon, being observed these days, recognized even by the WHO. Ageism is generally defined as stereotyping or discrimination against an individual on the basis of his/her age. This term was introduced by Robert Butler in 1969. More specifically, ageism constitutes of 3 elements:
- Prejudicial attitudes towards elders.
- Adopting discriminatory practices against elders.
- Institutional practices that perpetuate stereotypes against elders.
With the vast majority of old people living in the developing countries, ageism has become widely prevalent. According to many researchers, ageism may even be more prevalent than sexism and racism. All three of them essentially serve the same purpose: identify and sustain inequality between different groups, and hence all of them serve as a major barrier in economic and societal development at large.
In this article, I shall delve deep into different sectors and point out how ageism is prevalent in that particular arena.
AGEISM IN TECH:
Tech and prevalence of ageism go hand in hand. It all became clear when Mark Zuckerberg himself claimed ‘I want to stress the importance of being young and technical. Young people are just smarter.’
According to research by CW Jobs in the UK, tech employees begin to feel old and discriminated against at the age of 29 itself, and they feel ‘over the hill’ by the time they reach 38. Around 35% feel they are too old for the job, and face a constant fear of getting replaced.
PayScale looked at the median age of 32 successful technology companies, and surprisingly only 6 of them had a median age of more than 35 years, rest all lied under 30 years.
Capgemini India recently claimed that most middle and senior level employees in the IT sector don’t possess the required skill set that this constantly changing sector demands. There comes a point in every developer’s life where they seem to struggle with changing languages. New developers have fresh knowledge and latest industry insights and know how to code in all the popular coding languages.
Since the dotcom bubble in 1990s, Silicon valley has adopted bigotry towards elder employees, despite the Age Discrimination Act, 1967. According to a study in the book ‘Chips and Change’, the salary of engineers grew exponentially in their 30s, but started falling in 40s. By 50, employees earn less than their younger counterparts, by 14% and 17% for postgraduates and graduates respectively.
AGEISM IN HEALTHCARE:
Aging inevitably increases your demand for healthcare services, however the current overview of the healthcare industry shows disturbing data. For example, according to ILC’s 2006 report, in America, 90% of elder Americans never receive routine screening tests for bone density, colon or prostate cancer, or glaucoma, and more than 1/3rd of American doctors continue to believe that ‘elevated blood pressure’ is a normal part of aging.
This discrimination can be easily highlighted in medical research as well. Breast cancer, in more than 50% of the cases, occurs above the age of 65. However, in clinical testing of new drugs, less than 10% of the participants are above the age of 65.
According to a research conducted in Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, age bias in ICUs is also widely prevalent. Older patients receive less aggressive care than younger patients, as the use of mechanical ventilation in ICU sharply reduces in patients who are 70 or older.
Due to ageism, many old age conditions can go undiagnosed and untreated, like pain, fatigue, depression, cognitive impairment and anxiety. It has been observed that with elderly patients, doctors may be less patient and less responsive to issues raised by patients.
AGEISM IN ADVERTISING:
While ageism exists in many industries, in advertising it’s on steroids. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median age in advertising is 39.2 (while in other industries it usually stretches to 45-47).
Recently, a New York Agency Oberland created a video highlighting the blatant ageism in the advertising agency. “The grandkids gave you some pointers?” a young interviewer rudely asked a 43 year old applicant in the video, which is really painful. Every year, around 22% of the discrimination charges received by The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, were on the grounds of ageism.
Mark Read, CEO of WPP, the world’s biggest ad-holding company, faced major defamation, due to his ageist comment. He said, “We have a very broad range of skills and if you look at our people, the average age of someone who works at WPP, is less than 30s, they don’t hark back to the 1980s, luckily”.
Insiders cite a variety of reasons for CMOs being shown the door after 3 years and youth standing on the pedestal, first being ‘cost effective’. Many corporations believe that training fresh talent is much cheaper than raising and maintaining the salaries of the experienced, who may not be equipped with the rapidly growing digital advancements as well. Secondly, for obvious reasons is the rush to hire digitally native people. There is a well-ingrained belief that the young are more carefree and bring more radical ideas to the plate than the grey-haired folk.
However, companies like Ogilvy have started with advertising internship programmes with no upper limit. WPP has seen workers between 20-29 decreased from 38% in 2011 to 35% in 2016, suggesting flattening of the company’s workforce distribution across different ages.
We need brands targeting young and vibrant consumers, but we also need experienced, old advisors. All companies should strive for balance in strategy and workforce.
AGEISM IN BOLLYWOOD:
Bollywood seems to have personified the whole ageism practice. Recent example will be of the movie ‘Saand ki aankh’, starring Bhumi Pednekar and Taapsee Pannu. The movie was based on the lives of two sharpshooters in their sixties, however what caught the audience’s attention was not much of the storyline, rather how two extremely young actresses were hired for playing a role of such aged women and underwent a drastic makeover, rather than directly hiring talented and suitable old actresses.
If we think about it, this is interlinked to sexism. For example, in Golmaal Again, there was a remake of a 20-year old song which starred Kajol and Ajay as the lead, 20 years after that, though Ajay remains constant, Kajol was replaced by a younger actress, Parineeti.
What is the reason? In Bollywood, people are overly critical and judge women according to certain baseless conventional standards of beauty- Vidya Balan facing fat-shaming is a clear example of that. In Bollywood, we need to give women the space and right to be actual humans who are allowed to age and still be talented enough in their profession.
HARMFUL IMPACT OF AGEISM:
Research by Levy et al shows us that elders with negative attitudes relating to ageism may live for 7.5 years less than those with positive attitudes. People who faced discrimination on the basis of age are found to suffer from cardiovascular stress, and lower productivity. Certain serious disorders like dementia, are usually ignored as ‘signs of normal ageing’ and thus go unnoticed without any proper medical care.
‘Ageism is a preventable, but a silent and repetitive killer’. To combat this social evil, we first need to revolutionize attitudes of people surrounding us. No workplace legislation can work well, till the time this stereotype or bias prevalent in leaders’ minds gets dumped in the bin.