It doesn’t surprise me that the term “ageism” was born in 1971 as the Flower Power “Me” generation was beginning to become part of the establishment.
The word was actually coined by Robert Neil Butler, who was no flower child. He was born in 1927 and came up with the term to describe the rampant discrimination he saw against seniors. According to Wikipedia, Butler was “known for his work on the social needs and the rights of the elderly and for his research on healthy aging and the dementias.”
Lately, I’ve been hearing the word “ageism” a lot — from the mouths of aforementioned baby boomers. Don’t call them “old.” Don’t call them “seniors.” If you make that mistake, you’ll probably be accused of ageism.
But ageism is out there in myriad forms. It’s in many workplaces these days that are aiming to replace traditional “legacy costs” (read: older fulltime workers with benefits) with cheaper workers who will forever be parttime fulltime employees who won’t get much in terms of benefits.
And it’s not just company owners who are trying to get the boomers to walk the plank: many 20something and 30something workers who will gladly accept those downscaled positions are trying to push boomers out, too, especially as younger managers are named. I suppose it’s true: many young people do discriminate against older people, even if is just a dismissive, subtle form. As in, “We’re Twitter-wise and so much more tech-savvy than the boomers . . .”
Thing is, I don’t remember seeing that sort of attitude when I started in the newspaper business at the age of 19. There were many veterans in our newsroom, and I learned from them. We treasured them, and were sad to see them retire.
One of the scariest things I am seeing (from an editor’s point of view) in the newspaper business — throughout Canada and the U.S. — is the drastic decline in the quality of editing. And I know exactly what’s going on. As older veteran editors are forced out, the work is being handed to people with little real editing experience and no real reporting experience, so a lot of serious and potentially libellous errors are finding their way into print and online.
I was discussing all of this with a well-known Canadian newspaper columnist recently. She’s in her 70s, and has no plans to stop writing any time soon. She advised me to keep working as long as I can, not to let anybody push me out the door.
I plan to keep working for at least 12 years or more, though I’m not sure if it will be with the same paper — because I can’t be sure it will survive that long. But work I will, and write.
How about you? Is ageism a factor in your life? Are you feeling any pressure because you are in yours 50s, 60s, 70s or 80s?