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"He asked me if I was having a senior moment." 23 women share their honest experiences of ageism.

Whether it’s in the workplace, amongst the medical and healthcare sectors, during everyday life or even in motherhood, experiences of ageism is something many people face. 

Ageism essentially refers to the act of stereotyping and discriminating solely due to one’s age. It also stems from negative attitudes and ideas on what it means to be older. Ageism continues to run rife in our day-to-day lives, says Dr Sue Ferguson, an Honorary Associate Lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Macquarie University in Sydney.

“Much research illustrates a clear and direct impact on the cognition of older adults, when these negative stereotypes are seen as facts in their mind,” Dr Sue tells Mamamia.

“Cultures where ageism is more prevalent often have a decreased life longevity as well. Not to mention the intersection between ageism and sexism can be a challenge for middle to older aged women especially.”

Watch: Paulina Porizkova on ageism. Post continues below.


Video via Extra TV.

As someone whose research is in geropsychology (the psychology of older adulthood), Dr Sue has seen firsthand the impact this sort of typecasting can have. 

“One key consequence can be the internalisation of ageism. It’s when a person gets so used to society’s ageist attitudes and the assumptions against older people, they then take that on and apply it to themselves. And that can make you feel crap,” she says.

So, to shine light on this issue, 23 women shared their experiences with Mamamia on the times they have felt discriminated against solely because of their age. 

Read on to hear their stories.

“I work with a lot of older men: there is barely an older woman in sight and I think that speaks volumes. I literally look around sometimes, and think where are they?!”

“The fact I am medically referred to as a ‘geriatric mother’ simply for having a baby over 35 is a bit messed up.”

Listen to Mamamia's podcast Get Me Pregnant: "I’m single at 35 and having a baby alone." Post continues after audio.


“As for my job, I’ve been a trained doula. After 20 years of being on call 24/7 for supporting births, I was happy to hand over the reins to the younger doulas with more energy. That was until I saw huge gaps in the way some of the younger ones were working with women, often a lack of empathy and more about getting the job done. When I approached these conversations tentatively, I was met with a lot of resistance and I felt iced out.”

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“Being 50 and coming into my new workplace, where the majority of people are under 30, I feel like a complete fish out of water. I’m surrounded by young people who are confident and I feel like a junior having to learn. There’s also this perception that if you're 50 and you want to come back into the workforce, like many women who have been caring for children, we expect a certain salary level. But I perfectly understand that if I’m coming into a new work environment, there isn’t a salary expectation on my part. More so a hope for people not to focus on my age too much.”

Image: Getty. 

“I worked at a law firm a while back and at the time I was in my mid-40s. Another associate (who was male) and myself were on the same position title, but probably not the same money. And it wasn’t even the money disparity that really upset me. It was the fact many in the office would overlook me, and delegate the important cases to him, rather than myself. Whether it was the fact he was a male, or that he was 15 years younger than me: who knows.”

“It’s a hard one to prove, but I’ve applied for a multitude of jobs that I have the experience and qualifications for: but have never even secured an interview. It wasn’t until I removed my date of birth from my resume, that I started to get a bit more interest from employers.”

“I started a family later in life, my first child at 36, then 40 and a surprise at 46. It’s only recently, now that my youngest is 4-years-old that I have had a few comments from strangers belittling my choices. They often ask if I am the grandmother. But what they don’t know is the hardship we faced to fall pregnant, having had five miscarriages.”

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“As someone who hires people for a living, I often make a point of reminding candidates not to include their date of birth or an image of themselves on their resume. Not for the fact that I myself would judge them, but because I know if they are to apply for future jobs elsewhere, the obvious signposting of their age might make them less of a candidate in the eyes of other employers. It’s unfortunate.”

“I’ve been a full-time stay-at-home mum for many years now, and getting back into work outside of the home has been a challenge. I mean, my super is nothing compared to my husband, so I’m really looking to earn some money to ensure financial security. But I’m also not applying for jobs where they might consider me ‘too expensive to employ’ as they may assume I will take nothing other than a higher salary bracket due to my age.”

“I’ve often experienced ageism while applying for work. In interviews they have questioned my longevity in the position considering I’m in my 50s. They basically are fishing to see if I want to retire soon. I’d say it’s a similar sort of discrimination that some women in their 30s would face regarding the potential of maternity leave.”

Image: Getty. 

“I get annoyed when the younger generation labels all older people as rude, ignorant or too conservative. Like anything, to just blanket one whole group as all thinking the same way isn’t helpful. Especially considering people of my generation were pretty formidable feminists in the ‘80s.”

“Where I’m working currently, there’s a lot of younger people who are having to write on topics that perhaps they don’t know anything about or at least don’t have that lived experience, like menopause. That’s why I think it’s important to have a bigger cross-section of ages in the workplace, as it means a larger variety of ideas and capabilities: the more diversity the better, including age diversity.”

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“I know my mum has experienced ageism in the healthcare sector. My dad was in hospital, and mum went to visit him and find out what was going on with his health. The doctor gave her a very limited insight into what was going on. I then came to visit dad, asked the doctor what was happening and he shared with me in vivid description the prognosis, x-rays and more. I was very cross when I realised he had basically overlooked my mum, her intelligence and her need to understand what was going on. At the time she was in her early 70s.”

“I love going to aqua aerobics classes, but my granddaughter said to me the other day ‘only old ladies do aqua aerobics.’ It’s not the worst insult, but since when has swimming in the pool become linked to a certain age!”

Listen to Mamamia Out Loud: ‘OK Boomer’ is the new viral phrase we’re hearing everywhere. But, what does it actually mean? And why does it feel so ageist? Post continues below. 


“I’m a sex worker, who sometimes works in a brothel. At the age of 46, I’m very popular with my clients. I’m also someone who chooses not to wear too much makeup, and visually I am obviously ageing. The men I see never comment on my looks. But the women! Many seem to be obsessed with their youth and looking a certain way, often making comments to me like, ‘I see you’re ageing, are you going to get an office job?’ Ha, actually no thanks I’m doing just fine.”

“I went to my doctor for knee pain, and he simply said ‘it must be age-related’. It pissed me off, because my other knee is the exact same age as the left one and it is not hurting. I then went to another doctor, who ran some tests and was able to provide a diagnosis and a solution: it had nothing to do with age.”

“My 18-year-old is going to uni next year so her employer is advertising her job position. She told me that they interviewed an ‘old’ woman but didn’t want her because they’re after someone ‘young and fun’. I told her this was discrimination, you don’t need to be young to be a medical receptionist. She replied: ‘yeah, but they want someone who will learn quickly and that woman looked 60’. Her face fell when I reminded her that this would be her dad’s age in five years (and he certainly learns quickly).”

“I just started going to a community mother’s group, and we were introducing ourselves and our babies. For reference, I am 43. I didn’t tell anyone my age, I just introduced my 8-week-old child, as well as mentioning that between my partner and I we had children aged nine to 18 from other relationships. A girl then piped up and told me I was selfish to have a baby being so old. She also said I might embarrass my baby when she grew up, as when dropping her off for school, everyone would think I was the grandmother. Needless to say it broke me completely.”

Image: Getty. 

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“I forgot where I parked in the massive shopping centre near my house (something I have regularly done for ten years) and when I had to go to the information desk and ask for their assistance on where the yellow carpark level was, he said to me, ‘that’s okay, were you having a senior moment?’ What an arsehole.”

“We older women have had to adapt to so much new technology over the years. It baffles me when others assume we then can’t learn anything, given we’ve been relearning things all our lives.”

“I am 50, and the company that I work for recently underwent some major restructuring. Pretty much everyone over 50, especially the female colleagues, were pressured to retire or move on, so that ‘the younger people don’t have to lose their job’. But to put it simply: many of us have less super than necessary. Isn’t it the case that older women have become one of the most likely groups to be at risk of homeless?!”

“I’ve been told by friends and family that my age is great when looking for work, as it means I have lots of great experience. But it’s really more of a hindrance as I’d be considered too set in my ways and not willing to learn new skills or adapt to change, according to the employer.”

“I went back to engineering after a six-year break. I had ten years of experience in engineering and they hired me at a graduate level because of the break I had, and most likely my age. The company also has an ‘under 35’ group where younger graduates are mentored. But I wasn’t even offered this level of support and guidance, which I am completely open to, given I don’t fit that age bracket.”

Feature Image: Getty/Mamamia.

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