Pro-Aging, Anti-Ageism

By: Jessica Novello, MS, BSN, RN, CDP


What is Ageism?

  • Negative stereotypes within a culture that guide feelings and behaviors surrounding aging and based on the age of persons.
  • The term was coined in 1969 by Robert Butler (an American Gerontologist). Not all languages have a term equivalent to “ageism”.
  • Ageism can exist at any point in the aging process and beliefs can be held against the young and/or the old.
  • Negative manifestations can affect our sense of self, our interpersonal relationships, and institutional practices (healthcare and work policies). This creates layers of individual and widespread disadvantages- at personal, social, and organizational levels.
  • Disadvantages can be compounded by race, sex, or other stereotypes. Stereotypes may exist in healthcare, workplaces, legal systems, or housing/public benefits and are prominent in business and media (anti-aging culture).
  • The COVID-19 pandemic and the effect on nursing homes recently illuminated ageism disadvantage.
  • Professor Becca Levy, Yale School of Public Health, is a prominent ageism researcher in the US.


What are the Costs of Ageism?





Note: some of these studies are from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging.



I didn’t intend for this blog to become a literature review, but there is a growing volume of studies among smaller groups showing discrete measurable health improvement and tracking, long term, health risk among populations depending on exposure to aging stereotypes. Personal and social beliefs matter (and science is mounting in support)!


How do we Reduce Ageism?


Policy and Law

At all levels-from fair local business practices to international policies protecting persons of all ages, especially the young and old.


Meaningful Interventions

It is important that we have interventions that invoke people of all ages (commonly called intergenerational programming)- when older and younger adults work together both groups are better informed and able to combat age-related stereotypes.



Education should start with young children and be worked into college and professional-level training; we also need to consider academic research and social campaigns to combat harmful cultural beliefs.


There is power in people and their stories and Betty and Iris’ show that meaningful engagement, work, and respect go a long way. Their longevity is likely not by chance, but was earned by their action. I hope that by creating awareness and sharing education that we can work to break age-bound barriers, like Betty and Iris have done, to create a mutual benefit across all ages in society. When practice and policy support an overall educational and cultural shift against ageism both people and organizations stand to make large gains to stay well and active.


Learn More:

A short read (global): Ageing: Ageism (

A long read (global): Global report on ageism (

Listen to a summary of Dr. Levy’s research (NY Times) here: Exploring the Health Effects of Ageism – The New York Times (