Externalities of Ageism


aging in place

Sooner or later everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.

– Robert Louis Stevenson


Aging in Place

Having a bias against the word aging, avoiding the term at all costs, has consequences. It is a form of ageism that’s prevalent in our youth obsessed culture—even among many in the field of academics and business related to gerontology.

Ageism, or discrimination based on age, has various externalities that affect individuals and society as a whole. Here are some of the key externalities:

  1. Economic Impact:
    • Reduced Workforce Participation: Ageism can lead to the premature exit of older workers from the labor market, resulting in a loss of experienced and skilled labor.
    • Increased Health Care Costs: Discrimination and the resulting stress and social isolation can contribute to health issues among older adults, increasing healthcare expenditures.
    • Reduced Consumer Spending: Ageism can affect the financial stability of older individuals, reducing their spending power and negatively impacting the economy.
  2. Social Impact:
    • Social Isolation: Ageism can lead to social isolation and loneliness among older adults, diminishing their quality of life and mental health.
    • Intergenerational Tension: Discriminatory attitudes towards older individuals can create or exacerbate tensions between different age groups, affecting social cohesion.
    • Loss of Knowledge and Expertise: The undervaluing of older workers can lead to a significant loss of institutional knowledge and expertise, hindering innovation and productivity.
  3. Health and Well-being:
    • Mental Health Issues: Experiencing ageism can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems among older adults.
    • Physical Health Decline: The stress associated with ageism can contribute to physical health problems, including increased risk of chronic diseases.
    • Reduced Access to Healthcare: Older individuals might face age-related biases in healthcare, leading to inadequate medical care and poorer health outcomes.
  4. Cultural Impact:
    • Negative Stereotypes: Ageism perpetuates negative stereotypes about aging, shaping societal attitudes and influencing media representations.
    • Devaluation of Elder Contributions: Societal ageism can lead to a devaluation of the contributions of older adults, both past and present, in various fields including arts, science, and governance.
  5. Policy and Governance:
    • Inequitable Policies: Ageist attitudes can result in policies that do not adequately protect the rights and needs of older adults, leading to insufficient social support systems.
    • Reduced Advocacy: Ageism can reduce the advocacy for older adults’ rights and needs, impacting the effectiveness of social programs and services designed to support them.
  6. Personal and Professional Development:
    • Limited Opportunities: Ageism can limit access to training, development, and promotion opportunities for older workers, affecting their career growth and satisfaction.
    • Early Retirement: Pressure or incentives to retire early due to ageist practices can prevent individuals from achieving their full professional potential and desired career length.

Understanding and addressing the externalities of ageism is crucial for creating a more inclusive and equitable society that values individuals of all ages. If you are stuck in a 20th century view of “aging” consider the externalities of your bias. From a systems perspective, it matters.

21st Century Aging is not anti-aging, rather aging well within your age. Ageism defeats that potential at multiple levels as outlined here.



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