Think about it: Ageism

Addressing the issue of ageism; are jobs only open to the younger generation?

Elderly cartoon 370 (photo credit: MCT)
Elderly cartoon 370
(photo credit: MCT)
Every once in a while I seem to be drawn back to the issue of ageism. I guess that the fact that I shall be 70 at the end of the year has something to do with it.
Though, thank heavens, I am both physically and mentally fit, and do not suffer from any out of the ordinary health problems, my social surroundings (in addition to my mirror) do not let me forget for a moment that I am no longer 20.
The other day I received a phone call from a “Natali” representative. Natali is a private health-service provider.
One of the services it provides is distress buttons, which are very important for those who are disabled, chronically ill, and living alone. I am sure that sometime in the future I shall start considering having one installed, but it is I who shall decide when the time is right – not some pushy salesperson.
Besides the irritation of being the target of an uninvited sales promotion, there were two additional problems with the phone call I received from Natali. The first was the mere fact that they had received my name from somewhere. There are several possible sources for such information: the population registry (of which an illegal copy appears to be floating around), the Social Security Institute, the health funds, and the municipality. I didn’t allow any of these to hand over my name and date of birth to any commercial body.
If Natali and other businesses want to publicize their services for senior citizens, they can do so in the media and on the Internet, or post an advertisement in one of the official publications that are sent out to senior citizens with useful information.
The second problem was that the person who called, spoke to me as if I were an imbecile. As usual in such situations I reacted quite aggressively. Unfortunately, I am very familiar with this phenomenon, which I first experienced several days after being mandatorily sent off to retirement at the age of 67.
I came to the Knesset for some administrative arrangements, and one of the ushers gave me a wide smile, reserved for old dears, and said loudly and slowly “o-h y-o-u l-o-o-k w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l.” I felt like answering: “I have only retired, not gone senile and deaf. Besides, you look awful – you are 20 kilos overweight, and look old for your age.”
I only blurted out the first half of the sentence… The phenomenon continued with such comments as: "w-h-at a-r-e y-o-u d-o-i-n-g w-i-t-h y-o-u-s-e-l-f t-h-e-s-e- d-a-ys?” My answer: “Teaching, writing, translating, helping build a database for the Botanical Gardens, and spending more time than before with my granddaughters.” What I do not add is “most of which you are probably incapable of doing yourself.”
The worst part came when a colleague from the Knesset Research and Information Center said to me “it is wonderful to hear you talking the way you used to talk before.”
“I have retired,” I answered, “not lost my wits, or started to stutter. In fact, now that I am no longer a civil servant I can also speak my mind, and you, my dear friend, are infected with ageism and ignorance.”
A DOCUMENTARY shown last week on TV Channel 8 dealt with the phenomenon of “stereotype embodiment” in older people. Stereotype embodiment suggests that explicit and implicit age-based stereotyping frequently causes its subjects to develop the physical and mental characteristics of the stereotype. Experiments appear to bear this out.
The conclusion is that the sort of conduct that I described above, besides being an insult to one’s being and intelligence, can have harmful physical and mental effects, unless one actively resists it.
But there is more to the outrageous phenomenon of ageism.
I have already written in the past against the mandatory retirement age. Many people, who reach their 60s are more than ready to retire, but many are not. In my immediate family no one retired before the age of 80. In a recent article in one of the economic dailies, someone suggested that it should not be left to the individual to decide when he or she retires, since older people are inclined to act like a “headless nail,” and at a certain age people should be forced to retire to make room for the younger generation.
I wrote to the article’s author that it is better to be a “headless nail” than a “thorn in the butt,” adding that besides her insulting stereotyping of senior citizens, she seemed to be ignorant of elementary economics.
According to the logic that she offered, we should not only force older people to retire, irrespective of the psychological and other negative effects that this might have on them, but also encourage the haredim and Arabs to remain outside the work force, since this will leave more jobs available for the non-haredi Jewish younger generation.
Of course, that is absolute nonsense. It is elementary economics that the more people are gainfully employed, the greater the priming and accelerating effects on the economy. Certainly I contributed more to the economy in the past when my disposable income from a salary was NIS 5,000 more than it is today, when the state pays me (in the form of a pension and national security) more than the average family income, for doing nothing.
In fact, I occasionally still earn a bit here and there, but most of the work I do (and it is professional work, such as writing this column) is voluntary. Someone could be earning a good salary for this work, but as long as there are people like myself around to do it for free, these jobs are simply not created.
The answer might be: so stop working. I see – you don’t want me to work for a salary, and you don’t want me to work for free. But this runs counter to a current government- funded TV commercial, which encourages senior citizens to volunteer.
“When you retire your experience need not retire with you,” is the message behind the commercial.
AND WHAT will happen when the aging of the population (we are already over 10 percent of the population) will result in serious actuary problems for the pension funds, and the government will no longer be able to provide the minimal services that it still provides its senior citizens? The whole basis for how the state and the society treat its senior citizens will have to change. This will mean a change in the economic approach, as well as in the psychological approach. The economic approach will have to address the fact that physically and mentally able senior citizens should be encouraged to continue to be gainfully employed.
But more importantly, the phenomenon of ageism must be addressed with all seriousness, not only by means of well meaning but naïve commercials, but through the education system and social networks – for a start.
The writer is a former Knesset employee.