12 Ageism Scenarios for Social Workers – Including Reverse Ageism

These scenarios encourage students to think about and discuss ageism; they’re from our anti-oppression presentation for social work class (I’m a first-year MSW student at UBC).

In our group presentation, our goal was to encourage our fellow students to think about how older people are represented and treated in society.

Further, we discussed how young people are treated (reverse ageism). These 12 ageism scenarios are intended to increase awareness of both types of ageism, and reveal how widespread it is. Ageism affects everyone – young and old.

We divided our class into groups of 4. Each group discussed two scenarios (one from an elderly person’s viewpoint, and one from a young person’s perspective). They discussed three questions about each scenario, and reported back to the full class.

Here are the 12 ageism scenarios (6 elderly and 6 young)…

6 Ageism Scenarios – Elderly People

In your group, discuss these questions about both scenarios:

  1. Is this ageism? Give 1 or 2 reasons you think it is, and 1 or 2 reasons it may not be.
  2. How would you, as a social worker, support someone who asks for help with this situation? (ie, how would you put anti-oppressive theory into practice?)
  3. What personal or professional experience have you had with this (or something related to this)?

Cell phones

“Chatting on a cell phone while attempting to cross the street may be particularly hazardous for older adults, a new study suggests. The study, which appears in the journal Psychology and Aging, confirms other research showing that multitasking can interfere with an older person’s ability to perform everyday activities, says Adam Gazzaley, M.D., an associate professor of neurology, physiology, and psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. When engaged in a cell-phone conversation, people between the ages of 59 and 81 were less likely to successfully cross a virtual street within 30 seconds than their younger counterparts, the study found. The older participants also took longer to start walking…Cell phones and other distractions pose a potential safety risk to older people. Everybody needs to be careful, but older adults should probably be even more cautious if they’re going to engage in this sort of activity.” – Multitasking and Crosswalks a Risky Mix for Elderly.

Kidney donation

“The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), a private nonprofit group contracted by the US government, coordinates organ allocation. It is considering giving younger, healthier people preference over older, sicker patients for the best kidneys. Instead of giving priority primarily to patients who have been on the waiting list longest, the new rules would match recipients and organs to a greater extent based on factors such as age and health to try to maximize the number of years provided by each kidney – the most sought-after organ for transplants. The ethically fraught potential changes, which would be part of the most comprehensive overhaul of the system in 25 years, are being welcomed by some bioethicists, transplant surgeons and patient representatives as a step toward improving kidney distribution (which currently operates on a ‘first come, first served’ basis).” – Under kidney transplant proposal, younger patients would get the best organs.


Almost 50% of breast cancer cases involve women 65 and older, yet according to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), only 8% receive chemotherapy.

“There is a greater risk of toxicity in senior patients. This is due to several factors that come about with age including a decreased ability to repair cell damage, accumulation of body fat, and a decline in organ function. In addition, co-morbidity issues – the fact that elderly people often have multiple medical problems – increase toxicity, often because the chemotherapeutic drugs will negatively interact with the drugs used to treat issues like heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension. All of these issues seem to slow a senior’s recovery after chemotherapy or simply make the therapy too hard for the older person to handle, prompting them to cease the treatment. Other problems, like decreased kidney function, make it difficult to excrete the drug, causing even more concern. All of these issues put the elderly individual at high risk for serious chemo-related reactions or even death.”  – Chemotherapy for Seniors.


“ICBC has found that virtually all older drivers, even those in their late eighties and nineties, say they plan to continue driving a minimum of two more years. Most drivers assume they will always be competent to drive, and a small proportion (particularly older men) are adamant that only death will force them to stop. Aging is sometimes associated with changes in driving behavior that can lead to increased crashes. Failure to yield, and “looked but did not see” are common elements of these crashes. ICBC has found that very few older drivers perform adequate shoulder checks, primarily because of reduced flexibility, but also because of a lack of knowledge about when and how to do them. Older drivers tend to rely on their mirrors or on their memory of what objects they passed a while ago, failing to consider either blind spots or the faster movement of objects around them, especially as their own driving speed slows as they age.“ – Older drivers—what physicians need to know and how they can help

Bank Loans

“Nedbank has a loan age limit of 63, because their minimum repayment period is 24 months.” They do not approve loans to people who are 64 years old and older, as these persons would be turning 65 in a year’s time and would be retiring or retired.” – Getting a loan when you are older than 65.

Senior Citizens’ Discounts

“Seniors can receive discounted banking and checking packages at many major banks. Most programs are available to seniors aged 50 or 55 and older and the benefits can typically be found on the bank’s website. A bank’s senior program can include: Free or discounted personalized checks; No fee Travelers Cheques; Free personal money orders and cashier’s checks; No minimum daily balance requirements; Free or discounted Bill Pay; Preferred interest options on checking balances; Preferred rates on Money Market Savings, CDs and IRAs; Preferred rates on select loans and lines of credit; Extra savings account; Special check cards; Free or discounted safe deposit box; Free stop payment, money order and bond redemption services; Overdraft protection options; Unlimited check writing with no per item fees and/or Free or discounted identity protection.” – Plentiful discounts seniors might not know about.

6 Ageism Scenarios – Young People

In your group, discuss these questions about both scenarios:

  1. Is this ageism? Give 1 or 2 reasons you think it is, and 1 or 2 reasons it may not be.
  2. How would you, as a social worker, support someone who asks for help with this situation? (ie, how would you put anti-oppressive theory into practice?)
  3. What personal or professional experience have you had with this (or something related to this)?


“Employees in their 20s and 30s are finding themselves more at risk of a layoff, according to labor lawyers, as employers look to avoid age-discrimination lawsuits by adopting a “last one in, first one out” policy and turn to tenure as a means of conducting layoffs. In some cases, young, childless professionals say they feel they’re being targeted in layoffs, while employees who have families to support are given special consideration.”  – Reverse-Ageism Might Be Worse.

Grad School

“I’m Kelsey Caetano-Anollés, and at 17 I’m the youngest graduate the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has ever had. At 14, I was the youngest student ever admitted to the school, and I graduated this spring with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. But when I applied to UIUC for graduate school, I was told I was “too young,” “lacked experience” and was even told that I would be better suited to “go backpacking through Europe” than to continue my studies.” – Too Young For College? My Fight Against Reverse Age Discrimination.

Political Debates

“I was involved in a political debate about the healthcare bill with a few people significantly older than me. At the end they said, ‘We’re older, we know more about health and politics than you because we have more experience.’ It felt like discrimination, but part of me thinks they’re right.”

Insurance rates

“In 1983 Michael Bates alleged that he was discriminated against because Zurich Insurance charged him higher premiums for his automobile insurance than a young, single, female driver with the same driving record, or than drivers over age 25. He alleged that the rate classification system discriminated by grouping drivers by age, sex, and marital status and determining their premiums based on these factors.” – Discriminatory Auto Insurance Rates Allowed for Bona Fide Reasons.

Professional Accomplishments

“In professional settings, older colleagues of mine have a tendency to reference my age and how impressed they are with my accomplishments, given such a short career. It’s upsetting to me and feels patronizing, not to mention irrelevant. Is it ageist or am I overreacting?”


“Is it ageist that society expects me to be attracted exclusively to girls my own age? I like older (even much older) women, but my friends think I’m weird.”

“Maybe this whole “cougar” business — this image of the carnivorous older woman prowling for young males — is actually a media creation that really has no bearing on what was happening out in the real world. Maybe it’s the younger men who go out searching for older women to date. Maybe, older women — as much as we’ve been told to fear aging, to work out incessantly, to use Botox, to fear being replaced by the next arriving generation of babes — are actually really hot.”  – Who Are You Calling Cougar?


What do you think of these ageism – and reverse ageism – scenarios? Questions and comments welcome.

If you’re a social work student, you may find How to Write a Self-Identity Paper for Social Work Class helpful.


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