Written by Jordan Meehan, LCSW
You land that elusive interview for an entry-level position with your dream company. During the past 7 years, you poured your heart and soul into college, graduate school, volunteer work, and an unpaid internship in order to prepare for this moment. On the day of your interview, you show up early, having done all of your research and preparations in order to leave a good impression. When the HR manager introduces himself and begins the interview, he cuts you off and notes how “young” you look. He then proceeds to question your lack of paid job roles and expresses that the company is looking to hire someone “more seasoned.” The HR manager gives you the opportunity to talk about yourself and your experience, and then he ends the interview.
Wait, what just happened?
At this point, you are probably feeling frustrated and confused. You question why an entry-level job would require someone “more seasoned.” Unbeknownst to you, the HR manager’s unfair judgment about your age and youth cost you a fair shot at the job.
What is Age Bias?
The HR manager’s behavior is most likely the result of a personal bias and stereotypes about your age. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a bias is “a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment.” When a person holds an age bias, they tend to have generalized beliefs about how members of a particular age group will behave. Age biases intensify the negative stigma surrounding each age group. Every human being has biases. The challenge is recognizing those biases and working to correct them in order to reduce the stigma about age.
Every generation deals with age biases and the stigma that comes with being unjustly stereotyped. Age stereotyping occurs as a result of society generalizing the experiences of a few and applying those experiences on a broader scale. Millennials are frequently thought of as lazy, entitled, inexperienced, sensitive, easily offended, unmotivated, and disrespectful. Older adults receive labels such as “stuck in their ways,” ignorant, too experienced, judgmental, and close-minded. There are individuals within each generation that possess some of these qualities, but they are the exception rather than the rule amongst their age groups. In fact, most millennials are motivated, hard-working, active in their pursuits, and aware of how they need to improve. Similarly, many older adults are open to new experiences, willing to learn, self-aware, and compassionate.
Impact of Age Stereotypes
The stigma of a label based solely on someone’s age can have a lasting impact on a person’s mental and physical health. Millennials often struggle with anxiety, depression, and the fear of never being good enough. Older adults may experience increased rates of depression, isolation, loss of opportunities, and poor treatment. So the question becomes, what is the purpose of labeling individuals based on just their age? Stereotyping others only serves to increase stigma in order to justify separation between groups. Negative labeling fails to recognize the strengths of each generation and the unique individuals of all ages.
Steps to Help Reduce Age Stereotyping and Stigma
Age biases and stereotypes will never simply go away. Members of each generation have a role in reducing stigma and unfair labeling. Meaningful change will require self-reflection, effort, and even a little vulnerability. In order to combat stereotyping based on age, follow these steps to make a conscious effort to address your personal biases:
- Admit that every person has biases, including you.
- Identify your personal biases, and learn to recognize when they impact your thoughts and behaviors.
- Challenge your biases about other age groups and look for evidence to prove yourself wrong.
- Expose yourself to new experiences with people from different age groups.
- Make the choice to act in a way that celebrates the strengths of all age groups.