Ageism in NYC is a serious issue with 29% of young New Yorkers feeling seniors shouldn’t work: poll

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Respect your elders! 

Age discrimination is a serious issue that must be confronted in the Big Apple — especially as the number of residents ages 65 and up is expected to continue climbing, according to a new report.

“Older adults and people of color have experienced disproportionate illness and death during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the city Health Department said in an analysis on ageism.

“The pandemic has also exposed and perpetuated ageism. For example, some public discourse portrayed older adults as less valuable than younger people when it came to allocation of resources for care,” according to the brief, entitled “How Ageist Are We, New York City?”

Of New York City’s 8.65 million citizens, 1.73 million or 20% are seniors 60 years of age and over, according to the Department for the Aging.

That figure is expected to surge to 1.86 million, or 40%, by 2040 as members of the baby boomer generation become senior citizens. 

Age discrimination could worsen the physical and mental health conditions of older New Yorkers and increase medical costs, while positive feelings about age can have beneficial health effects such as “possibly protecting against dementia,” the report said.

The number of residents ages 65 and up is expected to continue climbing in New York.
Corbis via Getty Images/Richard Levine

In its analysis, the Health Department cited statistics from an unpublicized internal 2019 survey of 1,200 adults — conducted before the COVID-19 outbreak — that revealed discrimination against older adults.

The poll found that 60% of younger adults agreed that NYC is a place where older adults are valued members of the community, while only 35% of New Yorkers believed that was the case.

Meanwhile, nearly 40% of people younger than 65 said speaking slowly would help older adults understand things, while only 13% of seniors believed that was necessary.

Nearly a third of younger adults agree that older adults are too easily offended or interpret innocent remarks as being ageist, compared to just 7% and 9% of senior citizens respectively who believed that was the case.

The poll surveyed different perspectives younger New Yorkers have on elderly people.
AFP via Getty Images/ Ed Jones

Nearly 20% of younger adults believe older adults are a drain on the health care system and the economy, nearly double the 11% of older adults who said so.

City officials said these examples constituted “hostile ageism.”

senior citizens
Age discrimination could worsen the physical and mental health conditions of older New Yorkers and increase medical costs.
Getty Images

Elsewhere, 37% of younger adults said seniors need to be protected from the harsh realities of society, double the 18% of adults who said that was necessary.

One-third of younger respondents said seniors are too old to do certain things and whose feelings get hurt when they fail, compared to 14% of older adults who agreed with the statements.

senior citizens
New York’s population includes 1.73 million seniors that are 60 years of age and over, according to the Department for the Aging.
Getty Images/Spencer Platt

Another 29% of younger respondents said seniors shouldn’t be allowed to work and had already paid their debt to society, compared to 7% of older adults who said the same.

These findings expose “benevolent ageism,” health officials said.

“Mitigating ageism is key to healthy aging in our city, and can lead to longer, more productive lives for everybody. Despite the ubiquity of ageism on individual and systemic levels, awareness and recognition are important first steps in combating negative stereotypes and assumptions about older adults,” the report said.

The analysis highlighted city programs in place to help Gotham’s older New Yorkers and counter ageism.

For example, the department drafted specific COVID guidance for those 65 and older and visited home-bound residents during the city’s vaccination campaign, so they could get their shots.

Age was considered a risk factor for COVID-19.

Health officials said they also work closely with the Department for the Aging to curb ageism and create opportunities for older adults to thrive and age in their neighborhoods and recently published an anti-ageism guide with the Department of Education to teach students about age-based discrimination.

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