Older drivers are crazy drivers. That’s what younger people, and some older people 😉 seem to believe. However, according to official sources, namely the Federal Highway Safety Administration, drivers sixty-five and over make up only 19% of the crash victims, while those young folks 18-35 make up almost 40%, 38% to be exact, of crash victims. Add to that a study from Consumer Reports which found seniors had fewer crashes per miles driven than younger drivers. The final bombshell that destroys this myth? Research from the University of Swansea suggests that drivers seventeen to twenty-one are four times more likely to crash their cars than are senior drivers. But, anyone who has, or had, teenagers knows that is true. Why do you think kids’ insurance rates are so high and then drop dramatically at twenty-five?
I have never seen an expiration date stamped on the forehead of an artist, or a musician, or an interior designer. Creativity, like wisdom, is often a gift that becomes more complex and more nuanced as we get older. Michelangelo was seventy-one when he took on the job of completing St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Tony Bennett will be ninety-three on his next birthday, and when he was eighty-eight he did a killer duet of “The Lady is a Tramp” with Lady Gaga. It’s had more than 29 million views on YouTube. The sheet-metal sculptor, Beverly Pepper, is still producing monumental works at ninety-six.
I could keep listing active artists in all fields for the next week, but I think the point is made that as humans we are hardwired for creativity, and it is something we carry with us until our last breath.
Since humans first put stick to cave wall, in almost every type of image–moving or in print–where older adults are portrayed, the creator gives us one or more of the perceived shortcomings listed above. (This doesn’t include the ads for Viagra and the like, where the fit, handsome, and vitally alive, silver-haired fox looks longingly at the beautiful and equally toned and vital woman of a certain age.) The term for this systematic stereotyping is called “ageism.”
This term came into existence in 1969. Before that no word existed to describe the pervasive prejudice against people with seasoning, experience, and wisdom. Now here is the most surprising piece: younger and older adults hold similar stereotypes about aging–how can that be when we are now looking out the eyes of an older adult? I certainly don’t think of myself as mentally deficient, or slow and creaky. Unfortunately, that stereotyping is true because there are almost always (unless you are a centenarian) people who are older than we are on whom we can attach the list of stereotypes. Ageism is one of the last socially acceptable prejudices. Society, in general, still tends to categorize older adults into one of three subtypes: grandmother types–helpful, kindly, serene, wise, trustworthy; elder statesman–intelligent, competent, aggressive, intolerant; generic senior citizen—lonely, old-fashioned, weak, genderless (and for sure, asexual!) Adding to the unrealistic view of older adults, these automatically activated stereotypes subconsciously guide our behavior toward older people and how we communicate with them. Patronizing talk, including slower speech, simpler vocabulary, careful enunciation, a demeaning emotional tone, and the adoption of superficial conversation are telltale signs our implicit negative stereotyping is kicking in. Even sadder, women have suffered from greater ageism than men.
Now for some good news? There is a sea-change coming. More and more films and television programs are accurately depicting older adults as vibrant, energetic, smart, funny, and completely with-it.