A stereotype is a cognitive apparatus that allows an individual to categorize and organize groups of people into specified classifications, and to designate recognizable attributes to these classifications. Once an individual has developed a series of stereotypes, it is common for him/her to attempt to define very different people by these classifications. There are many different types of negative stereotypes in the United States. Stereotypes are often based on race, ethnicity, and religion.
For example, one common and unfortunate stereotype that has been perpetuated since the attacks on the World Trade Center is that all Middle Eastern and Muslim individuals are terrorists or threats to the American people. This is a potentially dangerous generalization that has led to extensive outward displays of prejudice toward these groups. While there are Muslim individuals that may be violent and warlike, not all of them are so.
This same theory applies to the stereotyping of elders and prejudice against senior citizens. Prejudice involves derogatory behavior that often results from established stereotypes. The difference between prejudice and implicit discrimination is that, while implicit ageists are unaware of their derogatory behavior, an individual that is responsible for prejudice against elders is fully conscious of his/her actions.
Discrimination against senior citizens is one of the most common types of prejudice in the United States, and occurs in all arenas of life. For example, senior citizens may experience discrimination when they enter a store or when they are eating at a restaurant. Discrimination against elders occurs on a regular basis and may happen in any location.
One of the most common types of discrimination faced by senior citizens is discrimination in the workplace. Employers may refuse to hire elders based on established stereotypes. Senior citizens may also experience prejudice by physicians and police officers.
These professionals who are supposed to protect and assist people frequently succumb to stereotypes in the course of their work. Derogatory behavior that is directed towards elders may include hurtful words and actions, exploitation, or violence. Generally, these types of prejudices are emotional reactions to stereotypes that have been developed over time.
There are various different stereotypes surrounding senior citizens, many of which are based only on a sliver of truth. For example, one common mentality is that elderly individuals are unable to effectively care for themselves, due to severe physical illness and mental incapacity. While this may be accurate in some instances, it is not true in all cases.
Another widespread belief is that elders are not as productive as younger individuals, and therefore, many employers will refuse to hire senior citizens. Health insurance companies will often avoid insuring elderly individuals due to the belief that they frequently become severely ill.
Stereotypes that depict elderly individuals as weak and vulnerable may cause them to become the targets of criminal behavior. When an individual classifies others based on stereotypes, it leads to harmful displays of prejudice. While legislation has been instated to abolish ageism in certain areas, it is important for age discrimination to be continually addressed in hopes of diminishing the scope of this problem.