Ageism is a form of discrimination toward an individual or group based on their age. The term often refers to the treatment of older people but is occasionally used to define prejudice against young people as well.

The term ‘ageism’ was coined in 1969 by Robert Neil Butler, the first director of the National Institute on Aging and a Pulitzer Prize winning-author. He defined ageism as having three connected elements: prejudicial attitudes toward older people, old age and the aging process; discrimination against older people; and practices and policies that perpetuate stereotypes of older people.

Some particularly persistent stereotypes toward older people include the following: being unable to contribute to society, having a poor memory, being slow and inactive, being out-of-date, and lacking knowledge of technology.

Stereotypes against younger people may include thinking they are too young to contribute any wisdom or knowledge, believing that they cannot think for themselves, or that they will be unruly and misbehave.

There are several forms of ageism, including adultism, gerontocracy and jeunism. Adultism is a favoring of adults over children and teenagers. Gerontocracy is a form of government wherein the leaders are all significantly older than the average adult population. Jeunism is the favoring of younger people and youthful beauty over older people. This can be seen in modern culture, politics, jobs, and anywhere that beauty is preferred over other traits that older adults may offer.

A new definition of ageism was introduced by Iversen, Larsen, & Solem in 2009: “Ageism is defined as negative or positive stereotypes, prejudice and/or discrimination against (or to the advantage of) elderly people on the basis of their chronological age or on the basis of a perception of them as being ‘old’ or ‘elderly’. Ageism can be implicit or explicit and can be expressed on a micro-, meso- or macro-level” (Iversen, Larsen & Solem, 2009).

Example: The actress, who had starred in several movie sequels over a span of generations, was harshly criticized by some people for not looking as attractive as her younger self and for not “aging well.”