Updated: Dec 6, 2021
Negative age bias has serious negative impacts, both on the people toward whom the bias exists, and on those who hold the negative bias, including individuals and all human systems.
Less talked about than some other biases, it still reduces people's ability to contribute, be taken seriously, and be positively regarded,. It is dehumanizing. Biased language toward older people is so much a part of American culture, that we don't even notice it, and it seems true to many of us. The more confirming messages we hear and see, and the more that biases are embedded in the institutions of our society, the more legitimate and correct the biases seem.
Some artifacts of how we see age as a negative include:
Telling someone they look younger than their age as a compliment,
Referring to someone as "with it" for their age, suggesting an assumption that most other older people wouldn't be "with it",
Assuming things about older people such as that they are dangerous drivers, that they are lazy, unhealthy, unable to deal with new technology, are conservative, or not progressive, innovative, or physically capable,
Using "old" or other references to older generations as a disparaging term: "That' creepy old man, " or "Don't be such an old lady about it,"
Using terms like "Okay Boomer" to mock or dismiss something said by someone born in the two decades following WWII; and
Terms like "Youthful enthusiasm" which imply that those positive characteristics are age-specific.
Biases have a legitimate purpose. We all have them, and they're a necessary way to put things into categories so that we can navigate in the world. Saying that we don't see the world in categories or that we don't have biases is never true.
But our biases aren't necessarily true and being blind to them also obscures the actual truth. One example is that many states require older drivers to be tested more frequently. In fact, the more dangerous drivers are men between the ages of 16-29. As a result, we're testing the wrong people, putting an unneeded burden on the older population, and also on the costs and resources associated with testing, and making the roads no safer. Of course, age bias negatively affects the workplace, hurting both employees and the organizations. Beliefs that older people are less energetic, technically savvy, capable, personable, causes older employees to not be able to contribute to their full potential. They are not chosen during selected for certain roles, narrowing the pool of applicants, they are not tapped for important projects, and when they are, their voices aren't heard.