By: Margye Solomon
Mark Twain wrote:
Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of 80 and gradually approach 18.
Really? As a woman in her late 60s, I’m not sure I want to go back to my twenties or even my teens. Battles with sexism and ageism in the workplace aside, I rather enjoy the peace and happiness that comes with age.
Everyone begins the aging process at birth. Then at some point in our lives (generally following our teen years), we begin to become wary of the process. The ancient Greek poet Homer called old age “loathsome” and William Shakespeare called it the “hideous winter.” Each wrote their descriptions of old age while in their twilight years, leaving a legacy of loathing for younger generations to study. Over thousands of years, human beings have learned to see old age as a disease, something to be avoided even though we know it is inevitable.
According to the UN, the number of people over the age of 65 is growing faster than any other age group and is expected to double in the next 30 years, while the number of people over 80 is expected to triple. With the abhorrence and fear of aging instilled in us from birth, we are given a psychological platform from which to operate in the workplace:
In with the new, out with the old.
Between this mentality and an aging population, it’s no wonder we continue to engage in the same discussions year after year.
[Related: Fighting Ageism for Your Mental, Physical, and Financial Health]
Ageism in the workplace does affect both men and women. Here comes the BUT: not equally nor at the same age. Research shows that age discrimination in employment is clearly a woman’s issue. In 2018, Lynda Gratton, coauthor of “The 100 Year Life: Living and Work in an Age of Longevity,” wrote:
Ageism is ‘far worse’ for women than sexism.
Gratton’s findings seem to mirror those of David Neumark, an economics professor at the University of California whose research showed that women suffer more age discrimination than men starting in their 40s:
The evidence of age discrimination against women kind of pops out in every study. Ageism at work begins at 40 for women and 45 for men. At that point, the employer no longer considers the worker for promotion or training.
The BBC attempted to tackle the question “Why do women appear to bear the brunt of ageism at work?” in a recent article by Tamasin Ford. Ford interviews 72-year-old Bonnie Marcus, founder of Bonnie Marcus Leadership in Santa Barbara, California. Marcus attributes visible signs of aging in women as a primary trigger. She says:
As soon as women show any visible signs of aging, they are viewed as not only less attractive, but less competent…And as women get older, they face the double whammy of sexism and ageism.