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Ageism and Discrimination for Women of Color

Updated: Jul 17, 2023

Ageism is the stereotypes we have about older adults and the biases we have on aging. Some examples include discrimination in the workforce and laying senior workers off to make room for younger individuals. The “seniors are stuck in their ways” and unwilling to learn new skills.

A momentary lapse in memory is normally referred to as “having a senior moment.”

Individuals will go to great lengths to remain young, vibrant, and attractive. Aging, wrinkles, gray hair and memory problems are other examples of ageism. Not only is this ingrained in our personal lives at home, in our classrooms and workplaces, and in a society where we continue to perpetuate this petty notion of “youth” and finding the next cream or surgery to remove traces of aging.

The negative impact of ageism among older adults leads to cognitive decline, anxiety, depression, isolation, adverse chronic health problems, and lower self-esteem. How do we as a society change our biases on aging? Interestingly, there are more advertisements in mainstream media on older adults who are embracing their weight, grays, and even their wrinkles. In our homes we can have our youngsters do meaningful activities with grandparents, elderly neighbors or friends and be more attuned to the needs of the elderly.

Women have traditionally received less than men in terms of compensation, benefits, and advancement in the workforce. The “pay gap is real” for the same level of responsibility with women working twice as hard to get a raise or promotion. In the corporate world women are underrepresented in industries across the board and very few hit that glass ceiling. Discrimination is not limited to employment but is evident in business/finance and access to healthcare. Traditionally, women are the lower income earners and more likely to be caregivers and homemakers responsible for the physical welfare of the children and for aging less abled parents. All this points to is that benefits received at the time of retirement place women at a disadvantage and living at or below poverty.

The Covid-19 pandemic further affected women of color as they disproportionately faced higher unemployment rates. The majority who are lower wage earners in the service industry, including homecare workers, are more likely to face penalties in wages for returning after a gap in their work history.

The ratification of the US congress 19th amendment Voting Rights ruled that women could not be denied the right to vote. Even though it took another 50 years to ratify the same amendment for the second time to allow Black women to cast their vote, this still underscores how gender and race is viewed and what it means for women of color.

The wealth gap for Blacks lag 10-12 generations behind Whites. This means that access to a decent education, good healthcare, and better housing are fraught with higher barriers with little to no room for upward mobility. The disparities in socio-economic status for women of color have a domino effect. How do you even claw your way out when you are working at least 1-2 jobs, struggling to put food on the table, keep the lights on, and keep your sanity and your family together? Living paycheck to paycheck with no time or energy for preventive healthcare because what will more likely happen is a visit to the emergency room or the urgent clinic when you are practically at death’s door.

The ramifications in later life are dismal as women of color continue this cycle and depend on government subsidies and assistance while living in poverty in their place of residence that is either falling apart or rodent-infected or become wards of the state living in long-term care in nursing homes.

Longevity in older adults has always been attributed to healthy habits, preventive health, nutrition, regular exercise, and a good night's sleep. There is a disconnect between the Healthy Aging initiative that promotes healthy living and preventive healthcare and what women of color can accomplish. So until we find ways to break down the barriers that perpetuate the cycle of poverty, the Healthy Aging Initiative will only work for a disproportionate number of older adults with access to services to live long and healthy life.

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