What is ageism and why should we avoid it?

Foto de una mujer mayor de espaldas caminando por una calle de tierra en San Pedro de Atacama en Chile.
Not all older people have granddaughters or grandsons, so calling them “grandmas” or “grandpas” is a type of discrimination. This is called ageism, and we explain it to you in this article.

By Gabriela Campillo.

Let’s start with the definition:

Ageism refers to stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination against people on the basis of age.

Is ageism only directed at elderly people?

No! Depending on the cultural and social context, ageism can affect people of all age groups who are stereotyped or discriminated against because of their age. In Chile, it is mainly directed at elderly people.

How to identify ageism towards elderly people?

Say granny/gramps, grandmas(pas), old wo(man), old folks
Refer to elderly people as a burden, hindrance, or problem
Infantilize elderly people or assume that they are passive and dependent

How to avoid ageism?

Prefer terms such as elderly people or senior citizens
Regard elderly people as active subjects of law
Contribute to intergenerational cooperation


A Guide to Initiating a Conversation about Ageism, Global Campaign Against Ageism, World Health Organization. March 18, 2021.

Writing without ageism, writing with geroactivism. Style guide for communicating responsibly, objectively, and realistically about elderly people in Chile, Geroactivismo Foundation.