Blog Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging

“Kids these days”: Why youth-directed ageism is an issue for everyone

Written by Morgan Van Vleck, MSW candidate (’22) and Masters Research Fellow in Aging at the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging

Photo: Eliott Reyna on Unsplash

As we become an increasingly aged society, it is important to understand how stereotypes and bias against both younger and older age groups functions and leads to fractures in intergenerational relationships. Ageism against older adults is often the focus of research on consequences of age-bias on the individual and structural level. As pointed out by researchers Francioli and North, a lesser studied component of ageism is age-bias against younger adults.

Younger adults today are the first generation that will be more poor than older generations and younger adults are expected to be outnumbered by their older counterparts. As demographic trends lead to older adults becoming the economically advantaged majority, the structural inequality between older and younger groups draws attention to the gap in research concerning bias against younger adults. Recent research from Francioli and North examines how age-bias against younger adults functions differently than age-bias against older adults, offering insight into what harm could result from a bias against young adults.

A recent study focused on ageism against younger adults, sometimes termed “youngism,” found that youngism functions mainly as a cohort-bias rather than a life-stage bias. This means that despite the young life-stage being viewed more favorably than the later-life stage, younger adults are often assigned unfavorable stereotypes due to their generational differences from older adults. Research reveals that negative stereotypes associated with younger adults include the notion that they are coddled, radically progressive, disrespectful, and inexperienced. These unfavorable stereotypes against younger adults are more likely to be held by those who are age 60 and older. These biases could lead to issues with economic instability in younger generations, which will impact future generations as our young adults grow older.                                                                                                                                               

The negative view toward younger adults due to their generational affiliation, such as Millennial (1981 – 1996) or Generation Z (1997 onward), has serious implications for the economic stability of younger generations. Younger workers are historically more likely to be negatively impacted by economic recession, and according to a recent study, this trend is reflected in the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers Gould and Kassa found that younger workers (16-24) are more likely than middle-aged and older workers to experience job loss.  Additionally, researchers Francioli and North found that negative views toward younger adults were associated with unwillingness to support student debt relief. A recent study from Texas A&M found that those who identify as Black or Asian are more likely to experience ageism in employment in both younger adulthood and older adulthood. This has serious implications for the ability of racial and ethnic minorities to attain financial stability throughout the life course. According to Francioli and North, Leaving the economic effects of youth-directed ageism unaddressed could perpetuate economic instability for future generations and lead to increased economic inequality in the future. Going forward, it is important to distinguish the different dimensions of age when speaking about ageism. Researchers make note that “age” could include several constructs such as cohort or generational membership, chronological age, social age, subjective age, and life stage. It is also crucial to keep in mind that someone might have encountered cumulative disadvantage because of their race, ethnicity, or gender—experiencing bias in younger adulthood as well as in later life. Paying closer attention to the ways that different constructs of age and intersections of identity relate to bias can help us overcome our unnoticed age-bias and ensure the wellness of future and current generations of all adults. When age-bias of any kind comes to our attention, it is important for us to counter these harmful stereotypes and work towards a more inclusive and age-integrated society.