Ageism is rising — and toxic!

old, weathered…now what?

By Caitlin Kelly

A friend of ours, Tanzina Vega, who used to work with my husband at The New York Times, until last week hosted an NPR radio talk show every day, The Takeaway.

She, like me, is fascinated by/horrified by/wants to end ageism — the persistent myth that older people are useless (and, sometimes younger ones, too.)

She recently did a show on this, and here is the link. It’s 32:43 and worth every minute, especially the powerful reader comment at the very end.

And Tanzina is only in her mid-40s.

Here’s this story by Stacy Morrison.

An excerpt:

Ageism as it relates to women is very much an extension of sexism, an -ism women have been living with their whole lives. And recent research shows that ageism may be the more disruptive force. According to a survey conducted by co-working community The Riveter, 58% of women say their identities or physical attributes impact their experiences at work—and age was the top factor (25%), garnering many more votes than being female (17%).

And no wonder: “As soon as women show visible signs of aging, they are actually perceived as being less competent, having less value,” says executive coach and author Bonnie Marcus, author of Not Done Yet!

Social activist Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, captures the issue more succinctly: “Women are never the right age.” Applewhite points out that when women are young in the workplace, they are considered lightweights and are oversexualized; then when women reach prime childbearing years, they are diminished if they become mothers, earning less and being given fewer promotions or opportunities to thrive at work. “And then pretty soon after that,” Applewhite says, “when you’re starting to fall away from this grotesque, obscene obsession with extreme youth as being the ideal for women, you are now less attractive as a woman. So you then become less attractive as an employee, even though that is what disqualified you when you were younger and prettier.”

There is no punishment for age discrimination, although it’s illegal.

Some job ads insist on you revealing your year of college or university graduation — like I’m going to share that!? Blatant age discrimination right there…and who does anything about it?

No one!

I lost my last staff job at the age of 50, earning a decent (for journalism) $80,000 a year at a major New York newspaper. I applied for dozens of jobs immediately, almost all of them in communications roles at non-profits — given my global life experience and speaking three languages, I thought I might bring some good transferable skills.

Not a word in reply.

I’ve applied for a few staff roles in journalism in recent years, but it’s really a waste of my time. Everyone over the age of 40 is deemed doddering, useless and completely unable to function in a digital environment.

So when I was interviewed recently, for a podcast (link here) and for a story, I never mentioned my age.

It’s no one’s business!

People here have a good idea how old I am, and my close-up photos here on my Welcome and About pages are obviously not of someone younger than 40!

But I admit to being flattered when — as an 86-year-old neighbor told me last week — I don’t look my age either.

Beyond moral, ethical and legal reasons –oh, we need more?! — denying older workers access to (good) jobs with benefits and paid sick days and paid vacation (at best) means shoving more of them into decades of crappy, part-time work at low wages, even as their minds and bodies are ready for rest.

In the United States, unless you are married to someone with heavily subsidized health insurance, you can be paying a fortune for health insurance — until you reach 65 and get into Medicare, government-paid healthcare that still requires payment for all sorts of things!

One friend, a man in his late 50s with a partner who has faced multiple cancer surgeries, is paying $2,600 a month for theirs.

This is a massive and unfair cost burden, which is why there are increasing calls for the age of Medicare access to be lowered.

So here’s what life over 40 or 50 or 60 looks like, at worst, and especially for women:

— lower Social Security payments for women who stopped work to raise children and/or be a caregiver

— lower SS payments for women, who need it most because we live longer, because we stopped making money a decade or more before we planned to, when we should have been at the peak of our earning power

— no access to well-paid staff jobs with benefits

— no access, through a staff job, to a steady, reliable income

— intellectual stagnation

— boredom

— loneliness

— isolation

— depression

— poverty

I never had children — so I have no one (should I outlive my husband) to help me financially and physically in older age. I urge everyone, all the time, to make the most money available within their industry, and to save as much as possible, which does mean a lot of self-discipline and denial, for all but the wealthy.

Because if you can’t get a job, where is your money going to come from?

How do you feel about aging?

IMG_20170525_132448046

I met this guy — fellow Canadian, actor/comedian Mike Myers — recently at a party in Manhattan. We’re near the same age, still working, still laughing!

 

This is a powerful video, and one worth watching — 11 minutes of a recent TED talk in Vancouver by activist Ashton Applewhite.

In it, she raises the essential unfairness of treating people who are older — whether they’re in their 40s, 50s — or 80s — as “other” and as lesser, people with less economic, physical, emotional and spiritual value to the larger culture.

And, as many women know, or soon learn, getting older is often a disaster in North America. If you’re still working, you’re supposed to pretend to be much younger and get every bit of cosmetic/surgical aid possible to make sure you appear that way.

I work in a field dominated by people in their 20s and 30s, eager to make their name, get ahead and claim a spot.

I also work in an industry — journalism — divided against itself in some deeply unhelpful ways. Digital media have claimed the lion’s share of audience and ad dollars, leaving “legacy media” (i.e. newspapers and magazines) with shrinking staff and budgets.

That also means many newsrooms and offices are hemorrhaging people like me and my husband, professionals with decades of experience and insight into how to do these jobs with excellence, integrity and efficiency.

Yet, now hundreds of newbies are also crying out for mentors, and finding none.

Because those of us who would have become their mentors by working together have been bought out or fired, blocked by age discrimination from acquiring the new jobs we need, dismissed as being “digital immigrants”, both illegal and unfair.

It’s a pervasive prejudice that weakens every workplace that indulges in it; diversity of age, wisdom, skills and experience also matters.

And I hate the word “seniors”, as if an entire group of people were an undifferentiated mass of old. We don’t call younger people “intermediates” and, usually only within an athletic context, do we call them juniors.

Enough!

L1000469

I also live in an apartment building where everyone owns their home, and a building dominated by people in their 70s, 80s and 90s. It’s always been like this, even when I was 30 and moved in there.

Some people would hate this and flee as soon as possible — all those walkers and canes and even, very occasionally, wheelchairs. All that white hair! All that…age.

It’s not an unusual sight to have an ambulance pull up or to get to know someone’s aide.

It’s never really bothered me.

Consider the alternative!

I lost both grandmothers the year I was 18 and never even met either of my grandfathers so I enjoy talking to people a few decades further along than I am, seeing how they cope and enioy life, whether off on a cruise to Alaska or just sitting with me beside our shared swimming pool in the sunshine.

Several are still working.

They know my name. They commiserate when my arthritic knee puts me back in a brace or physical therapy.

As I’ve said here, I have no close relatives and poor relationships with my own parents.

As I age, I have slightly less energy than a decade ago, but it means I’m more thoughtful about when, how and for whom I work.

Drama is something I eschew.

I go to spin class and lift weights. I pray, daily, for continued good health.

250px-Cover_of_Wallander_(Swedish)

Love this Swedish TV show about a cop who’s definitely not young

 

Jose and I are also very lucky to have friends in their 20s and 30s, people whose company we really enjoy and who seem to genuinely enjoy ours as well.

They don’t just pump us for contacts and job help, but we talk about politics and travel and books and music and money — all the things friends talk about.

It’s a great pleasure to watch our younger friends navigate life and, when asked, (and sometimes when not!), we’ll share our own experiences and strategies. Since we have no children or grandchildren, we really value this emotional connection with those younger than us.

It’s also a benefit of older age  to have left much of early adulthood’s angst and anxiety behind.

We’ve been lucky and careful, and have saved enough to retire. I just pray for a few more decades to enjoy it all.

Here’s a lovely “Vows” column from The New York Times, about a couple who recently married at 98 and 94.

They met at the gym:

“Age doesn’t mean a damn thing to me or to Gert,” he said. “We don’t see it as a barrier. We still do what we want to do in life.”

 

IMG_20160901_171110306

Remember this famous image? President Kennedy in the Oval Office…

Aging is a great privilege denied to so many!

 

Do you feel uncomfortable around people much older or younger than you?

Do you work with people much younger or older than you? How is it?