If you are not already part of a group disadvantaged by prejudice, just wait a couple of decades—you will be. Unlike all other prejudices, ageism is relevant to every person fortunate enough to make it beyond a sixth decade of life. Unlike the attention focused on other prejudices, however, ageism has been poorly studied and rarely confronted. Until recently, little was known about its origins and consequences.
Tom is not just a typical baby boomer; he has always been one of the hipper ones. A regular participant in Civil Rights marches, a Woodstock attendee, an open proponent of free love, and a career-long jazz bassist, Tom has always managed to stay at the epicenter of cool.
The topic of ageism and finances is broad, but nuanced. There are, however, two large, obvious clusters where age and money matters intersect: As people earn income, and as they save, manage, and protect their accumulated assets. Unfortunately, ageism in the workplace is common and will rise in notoriety, as the share of the workforce ages 55 and older will increase by 38 percent from 2010 to 2020 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012).
Dr. Robert N. Butler coined the term ageism in 1968 and spent his career trying to eradicate it. Unfortunately, despite his many accomplishments, “systematic stereotyping and discrimination against people because they are old” still occurs today (Achenbaum, 2013).
During the 1984 presidential debates, 73-year-old President Ronald Reagan was asked whether he was too old to serve—to which he famously replied, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” Though his response elicited a laugh from his opponent, both the question and the answer were examples of ageism in action.
Aging is life itself. That’s what makes it so damn interesting. But you wouldn’t know it from all the hand-wringing on the part of most Americans when it comes to the prospect. “Hey, it beats the alternative,” we mutter reflexively. What does that saying actually mean? The only thing worse than being old is being dead.