Ageism: The Last Acceptable Bias

by on September 20, 2021 · 31 comments

in Civil Rights, San Diego

By Mat Wahlstrom

The past few years have seen long overdue attention drawn to issues of systemic discrimination. From the #MeToo movement to #BlackLivesMatter to even concern for personal pronouns, we as a society are facing up to the ways in which we fall short of our egalitarian ideals to provide equality of opportunity.

But in what appears to also be a recent development, we’re seeing the exact opposite happening with regard to age.

Usually only referenced in connection with employment law, age discrimination as a social phenomenon is being treated as innocuous, with replies of ‘OK, Boomer’ not only allowed to go unchallenged but treated as acceptable.

While there has always been a tension between the old and the young, what we’re seeing is beyond the ‘just joking’ pretense that has long covered for other forms of bigotry.

If the current trend could be described as simply ‘pro-youth,’ it wouldn’t be problematic. But instead it’s deployed in lockstep with the framing of demographics as a zero-sum game, in which elders are considered unfair beneficiaries who not only deserve but must be disenfranchised and marginalized in order for the younger to the prosper.

And in San Diego, the evidence of it is everywhere.

Back in February 2020, a recent candidate for Uptown Planners spoke at our public meeting and stated that older board members shouldn’t oppose a proposed plan amendment — because it will affect people living here in the next twenty years, and they ‘won’t be around by then.’ And after the last election, she posted video of herself berating her loss, promising to “dance on your graves.”

Even a cursory scan of YIMBY Twitter reveals similarly disturbing and genuinely hateful comments based on the apparent age of anyone who dares oppose them — just as readers have seen here, most recently with Geoff Page’s article about ‘the politics of fear’ being used to accomplish partisan policy ends.

And does anyone doubt that this is also considered a safe and shorthand way to reverse discriminate on the basis of race and gender? How often is a criticism by age followed as axiomatic in the formulation, ‘old white men’?

Much of this is excused as unfortunate but understandable in response to age-specific inequalities in wealth, as the image of the graph from the Washington Post at the top of this article that continues to go viral supposedly demonstrates. But as this analysis of it shows, this is a false look at just one point in time. Using the exact same data adjusted for wealth in per capita terms and for inflation, Millennials are tracking with Gen X the same as Baby Boomers did over previous generations.

In other words, it’s those younger than Boomers who will be the winners of the actuarial lottery — just as in 2019 they became the winners of the electoral lottery, comprising almost 60% of eligible voters.

Simply put, as it has been since time immemorial, there are more younger people than older people. Despite our advances in longevity, to be elder is to grow into minority. Which is why age is a protected class in the first place.

Having borne witness to this for a while, I’ve come to the conclusion that ageism, like fear, is being weaponized to achieve political ends.

Like advertisers, lobbyists go after the ‘coveted 18-to-34 demographic,’ the time span wherein people are converted to products and brands they’ll use the rest of their life.

YIMBYism, birthed by Silicon Valley tech money, is informed by target marketing, with membership signaling you’re ahead of the curve, cool and sophisticated. (Which explains the prevalence of craft beers and bicycles as signifiers.)

But because we’re talking about policy positions not products, the downside of this is that it leads to a type of identitarianism, whereby it is believed that someone can only ‘know’ something by being a member of a particular group.

Ancient Rome had a system of patrons and clients, whereby the rich were literally followed around in public by the poor, who in return for their cheers of support and jeers of opposing patrons — even fighting with their clients in the streets — were rewarded with coins, wine, and bread. Today, clients are rewarded on social media with likes and shares, little endorphin bursts from scoring ‘burns’ and validation from being malicious.

But whatever the reason, it is unacceptable socially, ethically, and politically.

It must be called out. And it needs to stop now.

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris September 20, 2021 at 1:48 pm

While this article isn’t wrong, it’s not going to help anything. In fact, I can see it being used as an example of “another crotchety old Boomer pissing and moaning”. It will be interesting to see if this article becomes another shit show like Geoff Page’s article. It real irony of his article is you have two sides really going at it, yet both sides would probably be on the same side on most issues that divide left and right. The fact is, even when members of two generations might be on the same page politically, they are deeply divided on how to handle and achieve the same goals.
I tend to stay out of internet tiffs over generational arguments because it will go nowhere and really it’s pointless, no matter how much harm is being done. As a result I’ve managed to not get the “ok boomer” snarl just yet. I have noticed though sometimes my wife and I go out to local bar or restaurant and there have been some occasions where we were getting some less than friendly looks from other patrons. Sort of like “how dare those boomers invade our sacred space”. I’ve learned to accept that it goes with the territory. And it’s not like I haven’t heard plenty of people in my generation make some blanket statements about Millennials and Gen Zers. So the cycle continues and probably will do so for the long foreseeable future.


Mat Wahlstrom September 20, 2021 at 2:10 pm

Appreciate your comments, Chris.

I, too, thought about whether to write on this topic. But as you point out, we’ve become numb through repetition to ageism as discrimination — as we became numb to outrage with each offense committed by the previous president.

Yes, there probably is more in common than superficial differences. The problem is that that is not how these conversations are being conducted.

Discrimination in any form, even casual, is never right; and never more so than when it is deployed under cover of combating discrimination.


Chris September 20, 2021 at 2:46 pm

One thing’s for sure. Unlike race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, all things people are born with and can’t change, getting older is something all (or most) will experience. Everyone who discriminates against older generations will at some point in their lives will find out what it’s like themselves.


Mat Wahlstrom September 20, 2021 at 5:20 pm

Amen. May we all be so lucky. As I tell my 90+year-old mother when she complains about getting older, “It beats the alternative.”


Tom Cairns September 20, 2021 at 2:38 pm

Being a Boomer, I was attending a Bassnectar show, one of my favorites, when I was asked by a young couple, Millenials, if I was escorting my grandchild. They were surprised when I told them why I was there and they high fived me saying “cool.”


Chris September 20, 2021 at 2:55 pm

What I also find funny. I was born in 1961 so I am at the tail end of the boomer years. 79 through mid 80s I was in my punk rock years (ok still am) and in those years I was adamantly anti hippie, sometimes to the point of violence. There was no real good reason for it other than it was the punk rock thing to do. I have to wonder if Millennials even realize there’s generational differences even within the same generation lol.


Frank Gormlie September 20, 2021 at 3:01 pm

It finally comes out! Chris was a punk rocker! A lot of punk rockers were former hippies.


Chris September 20, 2021 at 3:03 pm

That’s very true. But we weren’t going to admit that at the time;)


Frank Gormlie September 20, 2021 at 3:00 pm

I’ve definitely been discriminated against due to my age; in the legal world, unless you have money, older lawyers are a dime a dozen and casually shunted to the side for “fresher” faces. I recall this one firm I worked at – I was the oldest attorney, had a family – and just didn’t fit in I was told by the boss to the rest of the bevy of lawyers, all in their 20s and early 30s, the day he fired me a month or so after a serious medical issue.


Pete R September 20, 2021 at 4:16 pm

Interesting take. While I agree that ageism is bad, you conveniently ingore that it goes in both directions.

I’m 40. Over the last 20 years, I’ve read what feels like an infinite number of articles about how Millennials and Gen-Zers are self-centered, unmotivated, poorly prepared for the working world, etc. That has been a prominent narrative for nearly all of my professional life.

So while I do agree ageism bad and we should all be nicer – please forgive me if I’m not overflowing with sympathy for Boomers who now feel picked on. We’ve been hearing it from you guys for the last 20 years.


Frank Gormlie September 20, 2021 at 4:29 pm

Ha ha! It does go in both directions.


Chris September 20, 2021 at 4:42 pm

I said that much in my first post. Perhaps both sides need take each others disdain with a grain of salt.


Mat Wahlstrom September 20, 2021 at 5:10 pm

While I’m not obligated to defend what others have written, I would like to point out three things:

1.) Although one can readily find anecdotal articles of the type you mention, does anyone seriously believe that there is ‘youth discrimination,’ that employers aren’t giving preference to those just out of college and/or still under 35 for jobs?

2.) While casual banter may go “both directions,” I’ve seen nothing comparable the vitriol spewed by those younger against those who appear as older. Again, simply look at the comments on this site to see how appearing of a higher age is *the* go-to insult, with nothing conversely comparable.

3.) Although there’s nothing wrong with being a Baby Boomer, I’m actually Gen X. What’s wrong is how public discourse is being poisoned.


Chris September 20, 2021 at 5:08 pm

Some more irony. The Boomers invented disdain for older generations:


Carla September 21, 2021 at 12:53 am

One thing to keep in mind also – Boomers have been – more or less – where younger generations are now.
They have been young and had their own versions of experiences the younger ones are going through or will go through.
They have gained experiences, knowledge and insights, both good and sad,
that younger people have, generally speaking, not had the time to gain.


Gail Laurie Friedt September 21, 2021 at 8:51 am

I will be turning 59 in a couple weeks. I’ve never had “OK Boomer” directed at me or faced ageism. In fact, I beat out a number of other much younger applicants for a position because my experience was valued. Is it because I’m just that good.? Nah, it’s just that I’m not an A-hole. And if you think it’s because I’m a woman, think again. My partner is an “old white guy” and he feels the same. It’s simple….BE KIND and people won’t treat you like a second class citizen.


Mat Wahlstrom September 21, 2021 at 11:59 am

Not sure I’m understanding what you’re implying. Because you’ve personally never faced ageism, it doesn’t exist? If minorities play nice, they don’t have to worry about having epithets directed at them?

Because “As a boomer myself, it’s embarrassing reading these comments” sure sounds like internalized oppression,


Frank Gormlie September 21, 2021 at 9:31 am

Just to note that legally, “bias” is a favorable slant, whereas “prejudice” is not.


Gail Laurie Friedt September 21, 2021 at 1:48 pm

I wasn’t “implying” anything – it was a direct statement. Ageism has always existed. But some people get comments directed at them because they just aren’t nice people.“Play nice” means that when you are working with someone, a group, or an entity that you may not work well with, make the conscious effort to be professional, work toward the common goal, and not cause any unnecessary strife.


Mat Wahlstrom September 21, 2021 at 2:50 pm

If a someone is being “not nice,” or a hypocrite, or dishonest, then that’s what you call that individual person. It’s *never* acceptable to pivot to slur them as belonging to a group of people who share an unrelated (and legally protected) common trait.

Are you that invested in defending the use of bigoted terms for people who disagree with your opinions?


sealintheSelkirks September 21, 2021 at 3:03 pm

I had to chuckle at this article and the comments. Couldn’t help myself because it ain’t as if generational warfare has EVER not existed at least throughout written history. There’s always a point (about age 15) where it hits. The young swordsman wants to attack Troy, is all pissed off and screams charge the walls while the older seasoned warrior says instead “Let us build a giant horse and hide inside…”

Wealth vs the majority population (who used to be called peasants or serfs) has always existed, too. Always, just like age groups.
Though I still have trouble with the ‘Baby Boomer’ description covering such a large span of years. WWII was the baby boomers, the war years 1941-1945, but my generation of the early 50s was NOT WWII but the Korean War my dad was in. So why did that get added in? Then the early years of the Viet Nam War births are also considered baby boomers which really doesn’t make any sense at all.

Birth rates tend to go up in wartime as does instant marriages among those going off to die and their new-found girlfriends…so the premise is that everybody is a baby-boomer since we have wars going on constantly in this country and always have, right? Iraq I baby boomers, Afghanistan baby boomers, Iraq II baby boomers, and then go back into history WWI baby boomers, the Civil War baby boomers, War on Mexico baby boomers, etc etc.

I’ve experienced a sort of reverse age-ism I guess with the ‘I can’t believe you skate/snowboard this well for such an old guy’ comments. No, really, I get this from people as I blow by on the sidewalk past people, or rock on down through a tight powder-filled treeline that most (young or old) people won’t even go into on my local hill. Us local riders do know where the powder stashes are!

I had one boarder girl come up to me in a lift line a while back who tapped me on the shoulder and was absolutely shocked when I turned and she saw my white ponytail & mustache and face wrinkles who said she thought I was a blond guy ripper… I guess she changed her mind on asking me out for a beer in the lodge at that point. But it was a compliment at least on my riding level…for an old surfer dude.

Funny that I hear nothing but thank you when I see somebody having trouble and stop to ask if they want some pointers. They’ll take my age-ist wisdom and really watch my demonstrations on how to ride with no problem at all, no argument. And they even say hello when they see me again somewhere else not on the hill. I’ve had local kids I taught 18 years ago in their late teens who thought I was so old then, come up and ask me to teach THEIR kids how to ride…because their kids wouldn’t listen to them. AHahahahaha! That was hilarious and it’s happened more than once.

My Kenpo students are the same way even though I literally cannot demonstrate many of the advanced kicking techniques any longer (hips and lower back don’t cooperate) and have to put in a vid of me in the late 80s for those. They listen and learn but it’s always about what they want to learn not what society is pushing on them. I think that makes a big difference.

Anyway, everybody gets old if they live long enough. Being old hurts, it is physically painful, because the body is wearing out. But then like Mat said about his 90 yr old mom, there’s only one alternative to getting old… We all will find that out soon enough.



Geoff Page September 21, 2021 at 3:46 pm

To paraphrase Mae West, “I’ve been young and I’ve been old, I like young better.”


Chris September 21, 2021 at 4:49 pm

Actually, the baby boom years were 1946 to 1964 so post WW2. How or why the BB years extended all the way to 1964 I have no idea. My mom who is 91 is considered greatest generation, yes she and my dad (he’d be 91 if still alive) graduated high school in 1946. The war was over. Those who were born during the war are just sort of there I guess.


Geoff Page September 21, 2021 at 3:12 pm


Excellent piece, I really enjoy your writing. You even had me looking up a word I did not know, “identitarianism.” I like seeing new words.

Your observations are spot on, I’m, 70 now, so I speak with some authority. But, I also remember chafing at being considered too young, when I was young and being told the older guys had more experience. This despite the older guys being idiots.

I am constantly razzed by my two millennials so that keeps me sharp for anyone else. But, my two will tell you, it is probably better to leave me alone than to poke the bear on this one. We may look ancient but…


Mat Wahlstrom September 21, 2021 at 3:44 pm

Muchas gracias, compadre.

And I wouldn’t want to cross either you or seal!


sealintheSelkirks September 21, 2021 at 6:41 pm

Yeah, Geoff, there are far too many STUPID people our age, or maybe it’s your age because I’m so much younger than you. 67 is in my face in a couple more months so you are the old dude. I’ve noticed that 80 yr olds call me a young whippersnapper…and I never knew what that is. It WAS hard being young and more intelligent that your boss and knowing it and still having to put up with their dumb crap while pretending it wasn’t. Frustrating!

Don’t poke the bear, eh? Ha! Mat wouldn’t want to do so it seems but maybe you and I have learned a little more about avoiding foolish situations I think, yes? Like my Troy analogy, let the young charger run up on the sword on their own while we move out of the way…

And I look around at people my age and think “But they look so old!”



Geoff Page September 22, 2021 at 12:27 pm

You are only 66, seal?! You seem fairly wise for a mere child.

Yea, if you follow boxing or baseball you see it. The young boxers are all about speed and force and the young pitchers are all throwing fast balls. But, the older boxers can take apart a younger one because they use their heads and the older pitchers develop other pitches. We all realize one day that we need to start using our heads.

You are also very right, I cannot believe how old some people look. As long as I avoid mirrors and reflections, that is not me at all.


sealintheSelkirks September 22, 2021 at 1:20 pm

HA! Born on Winter Solstice at sunset but on a leap year so I’m not really almost 67 if you add only those years the Solstice falls on my b-day… I am a mere child!

Fairly wise? I’ll take that as a compliment even though I just received an email from the local weekly newspaper that they are publishing my Letter to the Editor about the beyond insane covid behaviors going on here as we’ve hit the highest two-week new case count ever at the end of August. In the last two weeks it nearly broke that record, and hospitals are publicly telling people to NOT come if you aren’t dying; that people having strokes and heart attacks or broken bones will be sitting for HOURS (quote) before they can be seen much less attended to.

Idaho is flooding over the border because that state is run by total morons and their hospitals have instituted battlefield triage. One county already has on this side (Okanogan) but not Spokane yet though they are talking about it.

No beds in our local hospitals, not enough medical personnel left to treat anyone, and the city down south is being overrun. Even the local ambulance service publicly announced they are too busy transporting sick & dying covid patients to Spokane hospitals to answer car accident calls or emergencies promptly up here. This county has a 32% vaccination rate but Chewelah is now up to 44% vaxxed out of a population of 2,500 or so. Whoo-hoo, ain’t that great?

Safeway won’t even stop unmaskholes from entering the store, nor ACE Hardware. Scared of the red MAGGOT hats I guess. So much for state-wide indoor mask mandate.

Frankly I’m a bit surprised my rant will show up because I agreed with the anti-mask/anti-vaxxers that were standing in front of the Board of Education building protesting recently (front page picture)…and suggested that they shouldn’t go to the hospital if/when they catch this because they HAVE MADE THEIR CHOICE, and to let someone else have a chance at staying alive. Stay home. That’s gonna ruffle some feathers of those moms protecting their children from masks….
You ever get hold of my book I sent Frank? Ask him about it if you have time to read some…interesting…non-fiction.



Douglas Blackwood September 22, 2021 at 10:26 am

Yes, ageism is real, formerly called: ” the generation gap”! When you encounter this, start singing: “don’t worry be happy. See utube vid: Bobby Mc ferrin!


Paul Krueger September 22, 2021 at 11:46 am

Thx so very much for you very insightful commentary


Mat Wahlstrom September 22, 2021 at 4:48 pm

I’m honored. Very much appreciate your commentaries as well.


Leave a Comment

Older Article:

Newer Article: