Getting older is not to be laughed at. It’s time to fight back at the prejudice involved.

How did I miss it? How did I get sucked in to happily regard those growing older as the subject for mirth at their expense?

After all, I joined the rush to end racist and sexist stereotypes. Off limits now are blonds, the Irish, mothers in law and more. Yet meanwhile it’s still fine for those in their later years to be mocked for being so.

Lines like ‘Jim was so old he’d signed up to Twitter to leave short, grumpy messages for people he didn’t like’. Funny on the surface. But all part of creating a negative image of those who are older.

But being the target for humour is a small part of a much bigger picture. It’s far from the only way those of advancing years are marginalised or demeaned.

Pointing to the constant stream of ageist advertising and workplace attitudes, author Marc Middleton, a champion of the US Growing Bolder movement says, ‘We have been programmed to believe that, beyond a certain age and by design, we lose strength, power, intellect and passion. But none of these things have nothing to do with age.’

Does this ageism matter? Oh yes! There are two distinct ways in which all this is ‘not funny’. Not funny at all.

First, ageism shapes the way society values – or not – those who are older.

My wake up call to this serious issue came from author Louise Morse in her important new book, What’s Age Got To Do With It (BRF). Here Louise does more than identify the evil of discrimination simply because someone is old. She also champions the need to restore and champion ‘elder hood’.

Elderhood, Louise explains, is one step up from adulthood. It is a season richer, more meaningful and with something distinct and positive to contribute. A time of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’.

More than that, Louise challenges us to see the richness of God’s plan for those in their later years. As she puts it, ‘God has created a human lifecycle that the longer people live the more they learn and the more wisdom they gather. Living to old age creates the qualities that God intends to benefit the rest of society.’

Yet that’s not how we, the ‘older ones’, are seen or treated – with ageist ‘humour’ contributing to the misconception. And with prejudice and discrimination fanning the flames.

Second, ageism reduces our own view as to our value and ability to contribute.

Whatever our age, what we believe about ourselves impacts what we will do and achieve. If the noise in our ears keeps telling us we are ‘beyond it’, need to be ‘put out to pasture’, are over the ‘hill then’, and ‘past our ‘sell by date’ then that’s how we are most likely to behave.

We start to settle for the slippers, blanket, fireside and Werther’s Originals despite there being much more life to be lived.

When it comes to apportioning blame for the way things are, we need to take it on the chin. That’s because we have colluded in letting insipid ageism run rampant. We’ve bought the greetings cards, laughed at the jokes, sat on our hands, and held our tongues when we should have done none of those things.

What should we do?

Here are the top three ways I want to try to live by from now on and which I recommend to you –

Stand tall and refuse to believe the lie: Think how much more you know, how much more wisdom you have gathered and how your character has matured, since you were half your present age.

And, therefore, think how much more of those vital commodities – knowledge, wisdom and maturity – you have than those half you age at this very moment.

Added to this, take note of what you are contributing. To quote Louise again, those like you are ‘helping support their adult children, contributing to their communities and boosting the national Exchequer by billions of pounds each year. And many charities would collapse without their voluntary work – itself worth billions a year.’

So as you move from adulthood to elderhood, make a commitment to do so with a mind-set that says, ‘I’ve much to offer and they are lucky to have me!’

Refuse to play by ‘their’ rules: That means no longer laughing at jokes made at the expense of those in their later years – or, at least, trying hard not to. And no longer sending your peers birthday cards with negative messages like ‘I’m not saying you are old but you are starting to smell of wee’ – no matter how funny.

Even better, be subversive – launch a range of greetings cards with positive messages about the glory and value of the later years. If ever there was a gap in the market, this is a big one.

Speak out: It’s not easy to confront the unthinking words of others. But a quiet word in season may be called for. Those made in God’s image, and for whom he has plans, deserve to be defended.

Easier is to respond to media gatekeepers – praising examples of the positive portrayal of those who are older. And identifying when the opposite happens.

And in case you should think this is all rather trivial, from someone with a shallow sense of humour who needs to get a life, please think again. The widespread and sinister practice of ageism damages the health and wellbeing of older people. This can be seen in the way –

  • Age is increasingly becoming the deciding factor as to whether cancer treatment is worth the money.
  • The UN has encouraged nations to prioritise health care in favour of the young.
  • Ageism has been shown to cause cardiovascular stress, lowered levels of self-efficacy and decreased productivity.
  • Research shows older adults with a negative attitude about ageing may live 7.5 years less than those with a positive attitude.

This is why growing older is not to be laughed at. And why it’s time to fight back.

If this issue seems important to you, please share this blog by using the links below.

Louise Morse’s book can be bought through sellers like Amazon and Eden or use this link.

Have you seen ageism, or been on the receiving end? Do you have ways of responding, or other suggestions? Please do share them here or on our Facebook group.

Peter is AfterWorkNet’s Programme Director. He uses his retirement to help churches, resource inter-church initiatives, enjoy his eight grandchildren, escape to Spain and to spend his kids’ inheritance.


  1. I am also concerned with how politicians are portraying older people saying we are taking away resources from the young, have caused Brexit & many more negative statements. This can put older people in a very negative light to the younger generation.

  2. Thank you for this article which has caused me to reflect on my own attitudes to ageing. I am 74.
    Even when I was working in a predominantly male environment and was among the older men in the office, one person often referred to me and my slightly younger colleague as “those old coffin dodgers.” We laughed, engaged with a bit of banter reminding him that he was approaching that time as well. The individual concerned was not malicious but it was a way of getting a laugh from those within earshot.
    I thank God that I have been blessed with very good health but, of course, I am aware that life being so precarious as it is, such a condition can be irrevocably changed in a moment or by the onset of some debilitating condition. To build on my good health, I have for many years, decades even, undertaken running, jogging and now power walking as the years have advanced – a subject of this blog a few months ago. When striding along a pavement, it is not uncommon for me to get a “toot” from a passing vehicle accompanied by an arm displaying a “thumbs up” sign, (at least, that’s what I take it to be). On another occasion, I was stopped by a young lady asking if I had passed a particular person on my way and then asked, “excuse me asking but how old are?” At that time I was 69 and she was amazed and seemingly couldn’t get over it. More mysteriously, on another walk along some country lanes I was twice hailed by women from their cars asking me “if I was alright?” and when answering in the affirmative, checked “if I was sure.” That got me thinking about these two women’s concern for me. My quirky humour which goes against the tenor of this article could only conclude that they thought I was some “diddy old man who had escaped from a care home nearby.” When relating that to other, more younger people, they readily laughed concluding that if I was suggesting it, it was alright.

    When I go into my hairdressers to have cut the few remaining hairs on my head, one of the women hairdressers asks, “Hi babes, what would you like today?” and when I say a No.2, shocked, they earnestly seek to discover that I know how short it is and is that what I really want.” Or in eating places, a older teenage young lady will come up to take my plate away and politely enquire, “Everything alright for you , darling?” Yes, it is patronising and had I been 45 years younger I would have been very flattered and taken it as a “I want to get to know you” invitation. Getting older does have its benefits as I get smiled at and greeted by young women fairly frequently, basically because they regard me as harmless and in one case, because I reminded the young lady of her grand-father.

    Being patronised for being older is not really acceptable and underscores the latent attitudes towards old age described in this article but I try to read the situation in context. There are some people in retail whose natural mode of address is full of affectations like “darling, love, babes, pet, etc.” If they can be heard addressing everyone like that, fine; that is the way they speak and its friendly. It’s much better than “you doddery old git”! However, if it is singled out to those they consider over a certain age, then that is a different matter.

    I must confess, unless I smell the whiff of rudeness, I tend to laugh with it but am I, by doing so, re-inforcing the stereo-type and giving it the imprimatur that it is all right to mock the elderly? Generalisations are just that but other cultures do revere and honour their older people. I get a touch of that in my church where some of the Nigerian people dip before speaking and won’t let me carry anything that they regard as being too heavy. I have given up asking them to call me by my first name instead of “sir” since they would see it as me not honouring the respect they give me. I have seen in hospital, frail elderly people treated with the utmost care and respect by nursing staff doing everything to help them relax and feel comfortable. Then, I guess, there are just as many stories of the complete opposite. So much for generalisations.

    There was a time in gangland when some of the hardened and violent criminals had there own version of a moral code of behaviour. Children and old people were off-limits and woe-betide any gang member who crossed the line and interfered with either of those. Nowadays, those moral restraints no longer apply; in fact, the softer the target, the better so elderly people become frequent victims of robbery and those fit enough to resist to any extent get clobbered or murdered.

    In a largely commercially driven health and care system, those who are younger with longer life prospects are the prime tagets for care but, in doing so, plays out the false premise that older people have no value either commercially, practically or socially. Who knows what figures and treatment budgets are worked out behind closed doors with caps on those above 75 or 80? The whole culture needs to shift because, as it is frequently quoted, today’s 70 is the new 60 or whatever it is. Longevity is increasing both for men as well as women and H.M. The Queen is getting writer’s cramp signing the increasing number of congratulatory letters for those becoming centenarians.

    Lead me not into temptation by coupling with derision against older people, so thereby help to preserve the dignity that we ought to receive from society.

  3. I can’t say that I (aged 65) have been a victim of ageism. The whole article feels a bit sour. If we can’t laugh at ourselves, then life has got a bit sad. Surely the counter is to make sure that we do make a positive contribution to the lives of those around us.

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The word retirement is not even in the Bible. What is taught in scripture is transition. There is nothing that says you work most of your life and then get to be selfish for the next 20 years"

Rick Warren, PurposeDrivenLife