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Age Is Nothing but a Number: Bridging the Gap between the Young and the Old

Viva Dadwal's picture
Does this sound familiar?
“Why are young people so loud, lazy, and destructive?”
“We’re looking for a more mature candidate to handle this job.”
Now, what about this?
“Why are old people so boring, slow, and angry all the time?”
“We need young, dynamic graduates with energy to join our team.”

According to UN Data, the world is growing older. Youth unemployment is worsening. And soon, in many countries, fewer and fewer working-age people will be supporting more dependents. These trends will have significant implications for domestic and global issues, including labor market participation, health service delivery, and economic growth, to name a few.
In light of these interconnected challenges, one thing that both young and old must learn to agree on is that they are two sides of the same coin. In the 21st century, among all the other global problems and issues, your age should be seen as an advantage, not a liability.

Ageism is described as the stereotyping of, and discrimination against, individuals or groups because of their age. Although ageism is said to be neither overt nor easily measured, it is estimated to be the most widely experienced form of discrimination in Europe, across all age groups. In the United States, statistics from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission show that age discrimination lawsuits are on the rise.

Too often, ageism serves as a social divider between young and old. While ageism doesn’t seem to capture the same level of public attention as racism and sexism, it can have the same adverse impact – economically, socially, and psychologically – as any other form of discrimination. For example, stereotypes and misperceptions about age and aging limit the potential of people, both young and old. These effects, including those perceived, can prevent individuals from becoming full participants in society.

Unlike the somewhat more distinct qualities of gender and race, age is a continuum and a highly individual experience. It is not possible to generalize about the skills and abilities of a younger person based on age, any more than it is possible to make assumptions about an older person – or anyone else based on any other aspect of their identity. Indeed, combating ageism requires a positive view of aging and the acceptance and understanding of the dynamics of an aging society.

“Everyone has something to teach and everyone has something to learn.” – Desmond Tutu

Young and older people together have made – and will make – contributions to our society. Some surveys have found a great deal of symbiosis between working generations, including the recognition that each generation is valuable in its own right. Legislation has an important role to play in combating ageism, but so does public awareness and increasing genuine intergenerational contact. Social vehicles such as intergenerational programs, multi-generational housing, and volunteering can help to dispel age-related myths and stereotypes by bringing different generations together around issues of shared civic importance.
Together, we need to reinvent our assumptions of age: to break stereotypes and develop new models of ageing for the 21st century.