Our mothers raise us. They create “home.” We love them and they love us. Yet, these sacrificing and serving beings, once they start to age, culturally get discarded. Not in Europe. Not in Vietnam. Not in India. But right here in the good ole USA.
Discrimination against aging women has now been well proven and discussed in multiple academic studies and legal reviews. It’s a reality spanning multiple life genres: in romance, in the workplace, and even in geriatric medicine by some gerontologists (too many of whom use the term “granny-bashing” but not “grandpa-bashing”). Female ageism is pervasive. Nobody wants to be an old lady. Instead of honoring and looking up to the person that helped raise the next generation and stand by their sides no matter what, older women are socially seen as embodying everything that nobody wants to be: invisible, unattractive undesirable, ineffectual, and old.
Old men aren’t seen this way. Goldie Hawn proclaimed in the First Wives Club, “Sean Connery can be 300 years old and still be a hunk!”
- If there is discrimination against African-Americans on the job, they can take legal action.
- If there is sexual harassment against young women or gays, they can take legal action.
- But it is well proven that older women don’t have the same legal foot to stand on.
The Civil Rights Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act have been shown in studies to NOT protect older women even if mature female employees suffer from both age and sex discrimination.
Old age discrimination in the workplace is extremely difficult to litigate.
Older ladies don’t have the law watching their bending backs.
All this is happening in contrast to the fact that women live longer than men!
Many widows are still standing while their older husbands are lying horizontal in cemeteries—everyone knows that.
So we have more widows and women that still need to supplement their retirement income with part time jobs. Social security’s future is shakier and life keeps getting more expensive. But the job market is not receptive to hire older women.
Studies highlighting this are referring to women 60 and older for getting work. Today, sixty is the new 40, as more and more women in their 60’s are fit, fiery and still full of lots of ways to serve humanity while enjoying their own lives. Yet employment is less available to these still jamming women.
Outrageous studies have shown that age discrimination in the work force actually starts to rear its ugly head around 35 years old. These “newish” maturing women won’t work as many hours or take as much guff as younger meeker ladies in their twenties. Their bosses and employees report in surveys that they start to see them as less attractive as they near their 40’s.
OKCupid did a study that reported that women in their earliest 20’s get the most male attention across all ages. The study, published in OkCupid’s co-founder Christian Rudder’s book Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking), show that while women on their on-line dating site OKCupid remained mostly attracted to men their own age, males for the rest of their lives stay consistently attracted to 20-year-old women. Rudder proclaimed that for a woman’s entire life she is always less attractive to males than a 22-year old female.
Juxtaposed to this, in a study by Elite Singles, emerging statistics suggest that contemporary younger males are more amenable to romancing older women. These men grew up with scenes of movies romanticizing this type of coupling. And it’s thought that younger men are more open to dominance and monetary support from older women, compared to earlier generations in which the women sought out these values from older males.
There are a number of famous studies looking at ageism in the American workplace. A groups of economists tackled this dynamic. David Neumark and Ian Burn from the University of California-Irvine and Patrick Button from Tulane (where I was a hormone scholar) ingeniously submitted over 40,000 sham applications for jobs in 12 cities that had been advertised online. They sent bogus resumes supposedly from younger, middle-aged, and older age groups, older being from 64 to 66 years of age.
The researchers found that female applicants in their mid-60s were much less likely to be called back for job interviews than men of their same age group, even when applying for lower-skilled jobs, let alone higher-skilled ones that their mock resumes suggested they were especially qualified for.
Callback rates were 35% lower for older workers than for younger workers, but much lower for older female workers. The authors were surprised by the extent of less discrimination toward older men and more for older women.
Another sham resume experiment was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. These researchers sent out bogus applications applying for a senior science faculty appointment in labs across the country. The lab resume raters were statistically more likely to rate the male candidate higher on competence and “hirability” and were more likely to offer the male candidate a bigger salary and greater professional mentorship.
In this study, the female scientists favored hiring males just like the male scientists did. Females are often biased against other females, especially if they are smart and especially if they are smart, powerful and attractive. Some psychologists suggest this is one reason Hilary Clinton didn’t win the 2016 presidential election as women were jealous and didn’t want to see a strong and attractive woman succeed.
Musicians are not exempt from this bias. You might think getting hired for an orchestra is all based solely on talent. But think again. A famous audition study showed that females are less likely to be hired when the conductor can see what their gender is. Women were hired less when conductors viewed them in reality versus “blinded”. Auditions were held behind a “blinded” curtain. When the musicians could not be gender identified, then more female musicians were significantly hired for orchestra positions.
What are we talking about here? Cognitive bias. A bias against women, but particularly older women, and even women against women. Some psychologists state that one major contributing factor in Hilary Clinton not winning the presidential race was a bias of women against women in the voting booths.
Women are often culturally perceived as less worthy. And much less once they have lived longer and often, oxymoronically, then have much more to offer.
This “unjust cognitive bias” persists today, even though achievement gaps between men and women are closing. For example, there are more U.S. women than men graduating from college and with even higher graduate degrees.
An article published in a legal journal called Perspectives in 2011 by the American Bar Association highlights the rampant bias that still exists, even against powerful women in law, politics, and corporate America. The title says it all: “Media Bias Against Women Stuck in a Bygone Era.” On TV and in media and even on Google, there are consistently more nasty remarks about women’s aging bodies and female personality changes linked to menstrual cycles than you would think would be the case in modern life and certainly more than there are against aging males.
Some candid gerontologists bemoan the fact that there is “granny bashing” behind closed doors against older ladies by professionals, by physicians, in their industry!
Why this hatred and disdain against those who gave us life?
Can it be that the media has convinced us so thoroughly that “outer” appearance trumps all?
Are we a country of “Shallow Hals”?
Physical appearance matters more for women; age detracts more from women’s physical appearance than for men, so women are the aging losers.
It’s a dastardly double standard.
Nobody makes a big issue over President Trump starting his relationship with Melania when he was 52 and she was 28. But if a woman did that, boy, would she and the younger guy get hit with tonnage of criticism. If Nancy Pelosi or past Attorney General Yates were labeled as cougars, the media would never let that go.
- Women are judged on their looks.
- Older men want younger women who look better.
- Corporations want younger female employees who look better.
- Women want to look better than other women.
Facts speak volumes. Maturing women are the fastest growing demographic in the world. This cognitive bias discriminates against millions of women based on their looks. What are we going to do about this injustice?
We fight for the rights of African-Americans, Muslims, disabled people, but what about the deep pervasive cultural bias against aging women?
Harvard’s Professor Mahzarin Banaji has labeled societal cognitive biases as “mind bugs.” Mind bugs “addict” you, Velcro you, to how you look at things through the eyes of the society you live in. Ms. Carolyn Myss, a cultural thought leader and one of my favorite maturing females, reminds us that our “perceptions” are often our strongest addictions, move over alcohol and opioids.
Biased cultural perceptions historically served humanity. Thousands of years ago, when people lived in tribes, severe judgments or “mind bugs” might have been needed to protect between life or death. But today, as women age and become the masses of our populations, these mind bugs no longer serve. Especially not for older women or those who are widowed, isolated, and feeling the brunt of this throwaway phenomena.
We walk around with “mind bugs” silently looping in our gray matter—prejudices we inherit from how we were raised or that we take on from our culture and media. But if we blindly accept these unhelpful and even dangerous mind bugs, we become victims of a society and corporate America, that is blanketing our perceptions with goals of beauty and youth, only to maximize profits and power, not concerned with maximizing our humanity.
We can “choose” not to be victims. It takes awareness, intention, and action.
When we discriminate against a huge portion of our human family, our country becomes ill. The health of the family of mankind affects each of us. To put older women down, to judge, to make them less than, makes us all suffer. It keeps our culture superficial. It keeps each of us less connected. As we wound older women we walk around with wounds in our own souls.
Mature women are rich in resources—wisdom, patience, and compassion. They are fertile, not reproductively, but historically, in the stories of their lineage. They are mirrors of so much to be seen, if we don’t look away.
When we harm them, we isolate them. When we harm them, we harm ourselves.
Cultural mind bugs must stop. Seeing older women as less than must stop and it starts with YOU, and each of us.
Maturing women themselves must not buy into being “less than”, for being old. It isn’t easy to buck societal perceptions. Change takes tools. But the bigger your tool bag, the more the job gets done.
How to love older women more than hate them:
- Awareness. How aware are you of female ageism?
- Intention. Have intention to watch your own “monkey mind” for mind bugs against those who are older, especially females.
- Action. Reach out, interact, and speak with more focus and kindness to your female elders. Let them feel your respect. Open doors, smile, say hello, start a conversation, reach out, interact and start the energy moving.
Don’t avert your eyes, hoping they won’t see you. Share a smile. Acknowledge their presence. This is a small act with large consequences. Allow your mind, mind bugs, and heart to expand. You came from a mom. You might be a mom. Or a man raised by a mom. Or a man married to a woman.
We’re all connected.
Take action to stop bias in yourself or others.
We are all living and swarming as one family on this third ball from the Sun.
Let’s tend all members of this human household with proactive respect.
P.S., Dr. Lindsey wouldn’t have been able to write a blog like this or do a podcast like she did (see the link below) on this topic if she were in her 20’s. It takes time to marinate marvelous flavors.
American Economic Review Papers & Proceedings, 2016, Vol. 106, pp. 161-180, 303-308. Experimental Age Discrimination Evidence and the Heckman Critique.
American Economic Review Papers & Proceedings, 2016, Vol. 106, pp. 303-308. The Business Climate and Economic Inequality.
The study, found in OkCupid co-founder Christian Rudder’s new book Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking), purports to show that while women on the site remain primarily attracted to men their own age well through their 40s, men stay attracted to 20-year-old women for, well, pretty much their entire lives. As Rudder himself puts it: “From the time you’re 22, you’ll be less hot than a 20-year-old, based on this data. So that’s just a thing.”
Dataclysm: Love, Sex, Race, Identity – What Our Online Lives Tell Us About Our Offline Selves, $10, Amazon, OkCupid study that explains why men now find you physically repulsive. Handy!
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences vol. 109 no. 41, 16474–16479 Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students.
Perspectives Volume 19, Number 3, Winter 2011. © 2011 by the American Bar Association Media Bias Against Women, stuck in a bygone era.
American Economic Review, 2000, v90(4,Sep), 715-741 Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact Of ‘Blind’ Auditions On Female Musicians,
Review of Economics and Statistics, 2008, Vol. 90, No. 3, pp. 459-477. Workplace Segregation in the United States: Race, Ethnicity, and Skill.
Research on Aging, 2008, Vol. 31, pp. 41-68. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Challenge of Population Aging.
Journal of Political Economy, 1999, Vol. 107, pp. 1081-1125. Age Discrimination Laws and Labor Market Efficiency.
Contemporary Economic Policy, 2003, Vol. 21, pp. 297-317. Age Discrimination Legislation in the United States.