This article explores ageism and age‐based discrimination in the context of global population ageing. It accomplishes this by (1) situating ageism in historical, psychological, global, epidemiological and health systems contexts; (2) distinguishing implicit and explicit forms of ageism and ethical arguments supporting age discrimination; (3) considering how ageism intersects with ableism, sex‐based discrimination, heterosexism, racism and midlife bias and (4) exploring evidence‐based strategies for combatting ageism.

Key Concepts

  • Ageism is negative stereotyping based on age.
  • In wealthier nations, ageism is more frequently directed against older adults.
  • In poorer nations, ageism is more often directed toward younger people.
  • Ageism intersects with other forms of bias, such as ableism, gender-based bias, heterosexism, racism, and midlife bias.
  • Age discrimination or favoring an individual or group based on age is sometimes defended on ethical grounds, such as utilitarian arguments designed to show that older people produce less return on investment or non-utilitarian arguments that after a certain age an individual has lived a fair number of innings.

Keywords: ableism; age group justice; ageism; chronic disease; discrimination; disability; elder abuse; ethics; implicit bias; population ageing


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Further Reading

Achenbaum WA (2015) A history of ageism since 1969. Generations: Journal of the American Society on Aging 39 (3): 10–16.

Ayalon L and Tesch‐Romer C (eds) (2018) Contemporary Perspectives on Ageism. Springer Open: Cham.

Butler RN (1969) Age‐ism: another form of bigotry. The Gerontologist 9 (4): 243–246.

Felder S, Werblow A and Zweifel P Do red herrings swim in circles? Journal of Health Economics 29 (2): 205–212.

Gosseries A (2019) What makes age discrimination special? Netherlands Journal of Legal Philosophy 43 (1): 59–80.

Gullette MM (2004) Aged by Culture. University of Chicago Press: Chicago & London.

Jecker NS (2020) Ending Midlife Bias: New Values for Old Age. Oxford University Press: New York.

Lippert‐Rasmussen K (ed.) (2017) The Routledge Handbook of the Ethics of Discrimination. Routledge: New York & London.

Nussbaum JF, Pitts MJ, Huber FN, Krieger JLR and Ohs JE (2005) Ageism and ageist language across the lifespan. Journal of Social Issues 61 (2): 287–305.

Pope A (2017) A psychological history of ageism and its implication for elder suicide. In: McCue RE and Balasubramaniam M (eds) Rational Suicide in the Elderly. Springer International Publishing: Cham.

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Jecker, Nancy S.(May 2020) Ageism. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0028976]