This Chair Rocks by Ashton Applewhite

This Chair Rocks

How do we address ageism? Author and activist Ashton Applewhite discusses ageism and its effect on older people in her latest book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism. Meet her in person at a free event at the Library of Congress in Washington DC on August 25th. You can learn more about the event here.

Her book explains how age-based discrimination damages our perceptions of older people and their roles in society. From discussing the portrayal of "olders" as burdens to society to envisioning an age-friendly world, this book explains it all.

Read the Q&A with Ashton below which gives you more insight into This Chair Rocks.

If you could banish one stereotype about aging, what would it be?

The notion that older people are alike! It's why people think everyone in a retirement home is the same age-"old"-even though residents can span four decades. (Can you imagine thinking that way about a group of 20- to 60-year-olds?) It's why the last box on those marketing checklists - you know, 18-26, 27-39, etc., end at 65+-as though everyone over 65 buys the same stuff and does the same things.

Stereotyping-the assumption that all members of a group are the same- underlies all the "isms." It's always a mistake, but especially when it comes to age, because as the years pass, of course we grow more different from one another. It's why geriatricians say: "If you've seen one 80-year-old, you've seen one 80-year-old." We all age at different rates -mentally, physically, and socially-which is why there's no such thing as "acting your age."

Are "olders" really as much of an economic drag on society as the media portrays?

Absolutely not! People 50 and up fuel the significant, fast-growing, and often-overlooked "longevity economy," which according to AARP accounted for 46 percent of US gross domestic product ($7.1 trillion) in 2012. By 2021 the 50-plus age group is projected to drive more than half of US economic activity, as their spending fuels industries that include apparel, health care, education and entertainment. These statistics capture only part of the economic contribution of older Americans, whose unpaid volunteer work in 2013 was valued at $67 billion.

This is despite widespread age discrimination in employment, which prevents older workers from finding challenging work of which they're eminently capable, and relegates them to jobs that don't take advantage of their skills and experience-Wal-Mart greeters, say. It also makes it harder for them to find part-time and volunteer positions. Discouraged and diminished, many become economically dependent, contributing to the misperception that "olders" are a net burden to society, but it's not by choice.

You make a case for an anti-ageism campaign as a public health initiative. Tell us about that.

A growing body of evidence shows that attitudes towards aging have an actual, measurable, physical effect on how we age. There's no inherent reason for the effect to be negative. But an ageist culture tells us that wrinkles are ugly. Old people are incompetent. It's sad to be old. When we assimilate these stereotypes, they become part of our identity, and this influences how our brains and bodies function.

In one experiment, social scientists primed a group of college students with negative age stereotypes-words like "forgetful," "Florida," and "bingo"-that they flashed on a screen too briefly for the subjects to become aware of them. The students then walked to the elevator measurably more slowly than a control group! Imagine the effect on older people for whom the terms are more relevant, and thus more likely to become self-fulfilling prophecies.

People with more positive feelings about aging behave differently from those convinced that growing old means becoming irrelevant or pathetic. They do better on memory tests and have better handwriting. They can walk faster and are more likely to recover fully from severe disability. And they actually live longer-an average of seven and a half years. Everyone agrees that health has the biggest effect on how we age-and how much it costs. So think what a national anti-ageism campaign would do to extend not just the lifespan but the "healthspan" of all Americans.

Author Ashton Applewhite

About the Author

Author and activist Ashton Applewhite has been recognized by the New York Times, National Public Radio, and the American Society on Aging as an expert on ageism. She blogs at This Chair Rocks, speaks widely, has written for Harper's and Playboy, and is the voice of Yo, Is This Ageist? In 2015 she was included in Salt magazine's list of 100 inspiring women-along with Aung San Suu Kyi, Angelina Jolie, Germaine Greer, Arundhati Roy, Naomi Klein, and other remarkable activists-who are committed to social change.

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