Ashton Applewhite is an author, advocate against ageism, and a recognized leader in the field of healthy aging. She has been acknowledged by various major media outlets such as the New York Times, The New Yorker, NPR, and the American Society of Aging as an expert on ageism. Her viral TED Talk titled “Let’s End Ageism” is currently on the cusp of hitting its two-millionth view.
Ashton sits with Christina to discuss the common issue of age stereotypes, emphasizing the detrimental impact of generational labels and the importance of breaking down these barriers. Ashton challenges the notion that one’s worth diminishes as they age, and encourages listeners to embrace a more inclusive perspective on aging.
We hope that our audience will find inspiration in Ashton’s call to reject age-based assumptions and discover ways that they can contribute to dismantling relative stereotypes that fill the world around us, both professionally and personally.
Overcoming Fears on Aging
Ashton Applewhite is a renowned expert on ageism and the author of “This Chair Rocks, a Manifesto Against Ageism.” Ashton’s book is positioned as a resource to reshape perceptions of aging, fostering a more accurate and positive understanding of this life stage.
Her exploration into ageism began in her mid-50s when she looked in the mirror and realized the societal fear and negativity associated with aging. Human tendency to resist contemplating the aging process. Ashton had her own apprehensions—she overcame these fears by diving into research, interviewing individuals over 80, and exploring the forces that frame aging solely as decline.
Ageism is often fueled by fear, division, and age segregation. Ashton’s insights are shaped by her personal experiences, making her a compelling voice in challenging societal perceptions of aging.
The U-Curve of Happiness
Happiness can come in many forms throughout the various stages of life. Ashton discusses the U-curve of happiness, a well-documented phenomenon that reveals an upswing in happiness towards the end of life. She dispels common misconceptions, like happiness not being reserved exclusively for the wealthy or healthy. Rather, this happiness is a result of the aging brain’s positive adaptations.
Ashton shares a Stanford Longevity Center study conducted during the pandemic that highlights the resilience of older individuals. Despite facing higher risks and isolation, older people exhibited greater resilience in this study. They draw on their life experiences to navigate the unexpected or difficult situations life throws at them. Challenging stereotypes about aging, this study showcases the advantages of having a wealth of life experiences to draw from when times are hard.
Debunking Aging Misconceptions
When it comes to misconceptions, there are plenty surrounding cognitive decline and aging. Christina shares insights from Dr. Melissa Batchelor, an RN and aging expert, who emphasizes the importance of staying mentally active and socially engaged to reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Ashton underscores the tendency to blame age for cognitive changes. It’s important to understand that it’s about capacity, not age itself. She encourages listeners to explore attitudes towards aging, citing research by Becca Levy from Yale that connects positive age beliefs to cognitive function.
The power of knowledge can shape a healthier outlook on aging. Positive age beliefs can potentially reverse mild cognitive impairment—standing as another reason individuals need to break the reflexive habit of attributing changes to age.
Older brains hold more data, potentially contributing to greater emotional intelligence. The idea that older individuals may possess enhanced emotional intelligence due to a wealth of experiences adds an uplifting perspective to the conversation.
Ageism in the Workplace
Despite the benefits of drawing from a wealth of knowledge and experience, ageism in the workforce still runs rampant—especially for those in their mid-fifties. Individuals in this age group can bring a wealth of knowledge, camaraderie, and mentorship to organizations. Ashton adds that older workers often possess greater loyalty and flexibility than their younger counterparts.
The imaginary retirement age of 65 is obsolete. This challenges the misconception that older workers won’t stick around and are therefore not worth the investment. On the contrary, Ashton emphasizes that older employees are far from being a financial burden. In fact, they often exhibit greater loyalty which results in less turnover for companies.
At the intersection of ageism and sexism, women are disproportionately affected in both corporate and general settings. Women face persistent disadvantages throughout their careers, as societal expectations are constantly changing and being imposed on women of all ages and roles.
What can the average person do to combat ageism? Ashton provides a practical example, citing birthday cards as a seemingly small yet impactful battleground. She encourages listeners to challenge ageist content, whether it’s by not purchasing such cards, turning them around in the rack, or engaging in open conversations with store managers about the impact of these messages.
It’s important to speak up in the face of ageist comments or behaviors. Ashton suggests neutral responses that prompt reflection, turning moments of awkward silence into opportunities for cultural change.
That’s why Ashton founded Old School, the anti-ageism clearinghouse that offers a plethora of free resources—including campaigns like the Better Birthday Campaign, and non-ageist birthday card options. Explore the website and find ways to get involved—whether it’s addressing age bias in the workplace or taking small actions that collectively contribute to a more age-inclusive society.
Acknowledging internalized ageist ideas is the first step to dismantling ageism in ourselves and the world around us.
Moving Away From Generational Labels
Christina and Ashton celebrate the positive aspects of growing older. They highlight the irony behind the phrase “it beats the alternative,” questioning the societal perception that being old is only preferable to being dead.
Even in an ageist culture, people tend to get happier as they age. Ashton encourages listeners to imagine how this happiness curve might evolve positively as society becomes more age-inclusive.
A key topic discussed is the use of generational labels—Ashton wants us to move away from the term “generation.” She critiques the lack of scientific consensus on what defines a generation and how the term often perpetuates inaccurate stereotypes, dividing and segregating people. Ashton advocates for using terms like “older people” and “younger people” instead of generational labels to foster accuracy and inclusivity.
The discussion touches on the evolving definitions of generations in the age of technology, and Ashton emphasizes the absurdity of narrowing slices of generational classifications. She stresses that factors like birthplace, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual identity, and ethnicity have more significant impacts on life experiences than age.
The Impact of Technology
Technology has had varied impacts on different age groups. Ashton passionately rejects the stereotype of older individuals being technologically inept. In fact, many older people have learned to capitalize on the use of technology as a necessity for their livelihoods. Christina points out that learning new technologies can be a way to combat dementia and stay connected.
Within the world of technology is social media. Ashton suggests that despite personal preferences, it’s in everyone’s best interest to explore and understand various platforms. She encourages a democratic approach to social media, allowing individuals to choose what suits their interests and helps them stay connected.
Making Friends of All Ages
Christina and Ashton stress the importance of breaking down age silos and connecting with people of different ages. Instead of making a beeline for people of the same age in social situations, Ashton encourages making friends of significantly different ages as an effective way to combat ageism and broaden one’s perspective.
Reflections and Continued Work Ahead
When asked about her greatest accomplishment since turning 50, Ashton joyfully shares her recognition by the United Nations and the World Health Organization as one of the Healthy Aging 50, a prestigious acknowledgment of her impactful work in transforming the world into a better place for aging. Astonished and grateful, she considers it a profound honor
Looking ahead, in 10 years Ashton envisions continuing her work. Reflecting on the significance of turning 70 and the limited road ahead, Ashton contemplates becoming more selective in how she spends her time. Despite not having a clear vision of her future, she remains open to unexpected opportunities, embracing a willingness to explore new destinations and experiences.
See her full episode here:
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