"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,"
Ronald Reagan [age 73], in 1984 Presdiential debate against Walter Mondale [age 56]
Each year in May, the country commemorates Older Americans Month to encourage and recognize the countless contributions that older adults make to communities. Their time, experience, and talents enrich the lives of those around them. This theme also celebrates the difference everyone can collectively make – in the lives of older adults, in support of caregivers, and in strengthening communities.
When Older Americans Month was established in 1963, only 17 million living Americans had reached their 65th birthday. About a third of older Americans lived in poverty and there were few programs to meet their needs. Interest in older Americans and their concerns was growing. A meeting in April 1963 between President John F. Kennedy and members of the National Council of Senior Citizens led to designating May as “Senior Citizens Month,” the prelude to “Older Americans Month.”
Historically, Older Americans Month has been a time to acknowledge the contributions of past and current older persons to our country, in particular those who defended our country. Every President since Kennedy has issued a formal proclamation during or before the month of May asking that the entire nation pay tribute in some way to older persons in their communities. Older Americans Month is celebrated across the country through ceremonies, events, fairs, and other such activities.
The population age 65 and over increased from 37.8 million in 2007 to 50.9 million in 2017 (a 34% increase) and is projected to reach 94.7 million in 2060. Between 2007 and 2017 the population age 60 and over increased 35% from 52.5 million to 70.8 million. The 85 and over population is projected to more than double from 6.5 million in 2017 to 14.4 million in 2040 (a 123% increase). Racial and ethnic minority populations have increased from 7.2 million in 2007 (19% of the older adult population) to 11.8 million in 2017 (23% of older adults) and are projected to increase to 27.7 million in 2040 (34% of older adults). The number of Americans age 45-64 – who will reach age 65 over the next two decades – increased by 9% between 2007 and 2017. More than one in every seven, or 15.6%, of the population is an older American. Persons reaching age 65 have an average life expectancy of an additional 19.5 years (20.6 years for females and 18.1 years for males). There were 86,248 persons age 100 and over in 2017 (0.2% of the total age 65 and over population).
In 2017, 23% of persons age 65 and over were members of racial or ethnic minority populations--9% were African-Americans (not Hispanic), 4% were Asian (not Hispanic), 0.5% were American Indian and Alaska Native (not Hispanic), 0.1% were Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (not Hispanic), and 0.8% of persons 65 and older identified themselves as being of two or more races. Persons of Hispanic origin (who may be of any race) represented 8% of the older population. A larger percentage of older men are married as compared with older women---70% of men, 46% of women. In 2018, 32% older women were widows.
A relatively small number of people (1.2 million) age 65 and over lived in nursing homes in 2017. However, the percentage increases dramatically with age, ranging from 1% for persons ages 65-74 to 3% for persons ages 75-84 and 9% for persons age 85 and over. Over half (59%) of older noninstitutionalized persons age 65 and over lived with their spouse (including partner) in 2018. Approximately 16.7 million or 72% of older men, and 13.5 million or 48% of older women, lived with their spouse. The five states with the highest percentage of persons age 65 and over in 2017 were Florida (20.1%), Maine (19.9%), West Virginia (19.4%), Vermont (18.7%), and Montana (18.1%).
In response to the growing number of older people and their diverse needs, the Older Americans Act (OAA) of 1965 as amended calls for a range of programs that offer services and opportunities for older Americans, especially those at risk of losing their independence. The Older Americans Act focuses on improving the lives of older people in areas of income, housing, health, employment, retirement and community services.
Although older individuals may receive services under many other federal programs, today the OAA is considered to be a major vehicle for the organization and delivery of social and nutrition services to this group and their caregivers. It authorizes a wide array of service programs through a national network of 56 state agencies on aging, 618 area agencies on aging, nearly 20,000 service providers, 281 Tribal organizations, and 1 Native Hawaiian organization representing 400 Tribes. The OAA also includes community service employment for low-income older Americans; training, research, and demonstration activities in the field of aging; and vulnerable elder rights protection activities.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older. It does not protect workers under the age of 40, although some states have laws that protect younger workers from age discrimination. It is not illegal for an employer or other covered entity to favor an older worker over a younger one, even if both workers are age 40 or older. Discrimination can occur when the victim and the person who inflicted the discrimination are both over 40.
It is unlawful to harass a person because of his or her age. Harassment can include, for example, offensive or derogatory remarks about a person's age. Although the law doesn't prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that aren't very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).
Commonly held perceptions and assumptions about older people and ageing pose serious challenges to developing an adequate societal response to population ageing. Older age is generally typecast as a period of frailty and inevitable decline in capacity, with the depiction of older people as a homogeneous group that is care dependent, burdensome on health and social care spending, and a hindrance to economic growth. This is inconsistent with the diversity in health and functioning that is seen in older age.
Ageism is the umbrella term for the stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination towards individuals on the basis of their chronological age or a perception of them as being “too old” or “too young” to be or do something. Stereotypes affect how we think (cognition), prejudice affects how we feel (emotion), and discrimination affects how we act (behaviour) towards people on the basis of their age. Although ageism can affect any age group, it most often affects older people, and it is strongly institutionalised, generally accepted and unchallenged, largely because of its implicit and subconscious nature. Ageist depictions are prevalent in everyday language and in the media. Ageist policies such as health care rationing by age and institutional policies and practices that perpetuate stereotypical beliefs, such as mandatory retirement and the shortage of training programmes on ageing for health professionals, are widespread.
Direct exposure to negative ageing stereotypes is significantly associated with poorer performance on a range of physical and cognitive tasks in older people. Once perceived as an “older adult”, not only do individuals become subjected to external stereotyping and discrimination but the ageist attitudes are internalised into unconscious self-stereotypes. This internalisation process is significantly associated with poorer physical and mental health in older adults.
A study based on the European Social Survey found that ageism is the most prevalent type of discrimination, reported by almost 35% of all participants over the age of 18. Sexism and racism represent relatively stable categories that do not vary across the life course. Hence, they may lead to accumulated disadvantages over time. Age, on the other hand, changes with time and people are likely to change age group affiliation, with the passage of time. Hence, in contrast to the other two “isms” (sexism and racism), everyone is susceptible to experience ageism if they live long enough.
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