Is it Ageist?

Ageism is discrimination against people due to negative and inaccurate stereotypes based on their actual age or perceived age. Do not use the term ageism without definition.

Discrimination based on age (young or old) is ageism. Because terms like seniors, elderly, aging dependents, and similar "other-ing" terms connote a stereotype, avoid using them. Terms such as older adults, older patients, or the older population are preferred. In the same way, using pejorative terms for younger people is also a part of age discrimination.

Referencing Age

When referencing a person's age, be specific and avoid additional adjectives like "young" (e.g., Carol is 67 years young). If referencing a population, include specific identifiers: age range, average age, or median age, if possible.
On second reference, or when referring to groups generally, adults are persons aged 18 years and older and should be referred to as men or women. Persons 18 to 24 years of age may also be referred to as young adults. Persons 65-years-old and older may also be referred to as older people or older adults.

When writing about a group of people who meet a specific age criterion (e.g., such as eligibility for a program or a research study sample), use "persons [XX] years and older."

• John Smith, 63, discussed the benefits of exercise for older Americans.
• The research study included people aged 75 to 84.
• Miami researchers recruited adults aged 18 to 24 to participate in the upcoming trials.

To capture an age-based demographic, try using words like “older people” or “older adults.” Use titles that reflect life roles, like grandparent, community member, teacher, or volunteer, rather than age demographic.

Also, avoid pronatalist language that assumes all older persons are grandparents.


Seniors, elderly, aging dependents, our senior citizens, and similar "other-ing" terms that stoke stereotypes.
Neutral (older people, Americans) and inclusive ("we" and "us") terms.

Adjectives that are typically used for older people that can be marginalizing, albeit well-intentioned: spry, spitfire, fiery, cute, elfin. If it's not an adjective that you would apply to a younger group or person, it probably isn't appropriate.

Struggle, battle, fight, and similar conflict-oriented words to describe aging experiences.
The Building Momentum metaphor: "Aging is a dynamic process that leads to new abilities and knowledge we can share with our communities..."

Making generic appeals to the need to "do something" about aging.
Concrete examples, like intergenerational community centers, to illustrate inventive responses that address the needs of older people.

Tidal wave, tsunami, and similarly catastrophic terms for the growing population of older people.
Talking affirmatively about changing demographics: "As Americans live longer and healthier lives..."

Further clichés to avoid Leading a story with demographic shifts. Terms like a silver tsunami, gray wave, or rapidly increasing population suggest that we will be overwhelmed with older people.

Talking about aging as a civil rights issue. It suggests that when comparing ageism to racism or sexism, one might conclude that ageism is not so bad. Additionally, thinking of ageism just as a civil rights issue narrows its definition to situations that can only be addressed by litigation.

Being overly positive. Having examples of extraordinary older adults makes a point that aging does not necessarily mean overall simultaneous decline. Positive storytelling is important but balance is equally important.

Ageist Images

Ageism is everywhere. Ageism impacts everyone. Below are some examples of how ageism impacts everyone, regardless of age.