The language of ageism, and how we use it against ourselves

There has been a lot of recent attention on gender pay equity, the re-emergence of racism in western societies, and how youth mental health has been an increasing concern in recent years. However, the way we talk about older people, and indeed, how older people view and talk about themselves is also revealing of deeper attitudes and biases.

Join me as I talk with Assoc Prof Dr Tracey Gendron, based in the Department of Gerontology in the School of Allied Health Professions at Virginia Commonwealth University, USA.

Here is the link to the full paper we talk about in this week’s show:

Here is the abstract for some context:


Language carries and conveys meaning which feeds assumptions and judgments that can lead to the development of stereotypes and discrimination. As a result, this study closely examined the specific language that is used to communicate attitudes and perceptions of aging and older adults.

Design and Methods:

We conducted a qualitative study of a twitter assignment for 236 students participating in a senior mentoring program. Three hundred fifty-four tweets were qualitatively analyzed to explore language-based age discrimination using a thematic analytic approach.


Twelve percent of the tweets (n = 43) were found to contain discriminatory language. Thematic analysis of the biased tweets identified 8 broad themes describing language-based age discrimination: assumptions and judgments, older people as different, uncharacteristic characteristics, old as negative, young as positive, infantilization, internalized ageism, and internalized microaggression.


The language of ageism is rooted in both explicit actions and implicit attitudes which make it highly complex and difficult to identify. Continued examination of linguistic encoding is needed in order to recognize and rectify language-based age discrimination.

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