American society has been described as maintaining a stereotypic and often
negative perception of older adults. This negative and/or stereotypic perception of aging and aged individuals is apparent in such areas as language, media and humor. For example, such commonly used phrases as over the hill, and old far denote old age as a period of impotency and incompetence. The term used to describe this stereotypic and often negative bias against older adults is ageism.
Ageism can be defined as “any attitude, action, or institutional structure, which
subordinates a person or group because of age or any assignment of roles in society purely
on the basis of age”(Webster 25). As an ism, ageism reflects a prejudice in society against older adults.
The victims of bigotry and prejudice are generally referred to as minorities.
This is not because they are necessarily fewer in number, but because they are
deprived of the rights and privileges of the majority.
Ageism, however, is different from other isms (sexism, racism etc.), for
primarily two reasons. First, age classification is not static. An individual’s
age classification changes as one progresses through life. Therefore, age
classification is characterized by continual change, while the other classification
systems traditionally used by society such as race and gender remain constant.
From this we can conclude that denial of old age is a principal source of
bigotry against those who are old now. Second, no one is exempt
from at some point achieving the status of old. Unless they die at an early
age, they will experience ageism if the current trend continues.