That said, this approach to combating bias has its own pitfalls—namely, that it could seem to legitimize the idea that any older person who can retire, should. Some Americans are putting off retirement because they actually like working. A 2018 AARP survey of seniors showed that while the most common reason for working was “Need the money” (87%), “enjoy the job or enjoy working” (83%) was a close second.

Martin says that financial need is far from the only acceptable reason to put off retirement. “Research shows that the majority of older adults want to continue contributing in some form, and that some (but not all) older adults develop depression post-retirement, and in general, it’s a good economic proposition to ensure that as many people who want to work can work,” she says.

But Martin also says it’s also important to acknowledge the “unprecedented wealth gap between older and younger generations.” “A certain amount of generational transfer of resources, however defined, should at least be in the conversation for an increasingly multi-generational society,” she says. “At least that would be the egalitarian view.”

Combatting ageist stereotypes

One reason that ageist stereotypes are able to gain traction is that there is “less social contact—or productive social contact—between older and younger individuals,” Martin says. Contemporary American society frequently segregates generations via mechanisms like retirement communities, which gives plenty of space for ageist biases to fester with nary an actual older person in sight.

But the more younger people get to know older people, the more likely they are to reconsider harmful misconceptions. And fittingly enough, the simplest way to bring about such opportunities is to hire, and retain, older people in the workplace.

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