AgeLab Hosts Dr. Ernest Gonzales as Part of Aging and Equity Series

by Adam Felts

The MIT AgeLab hosted Dr. Ernest Gonzales, Director of the MSW Program and tThe Center for Health and Aging Innovation at New York University, for an online talk on ageism and intersectionality. The webinar was held as part of the AgeLab’s Aging and Equity series, which aims to amplify researchers, advocates, and practitioners across disciplinary backgrounds who are working to understand the realities of historically excluded and underserved communities, specifically regarding issues that disproportionately impact older adults.

Dr. Gonzales observed that longevity represents a modern achievement, but it has also produced issues of inequity and discrimination, both in the form of ageism per se and particular inequities experienced by marginalized groups as they age. Older workers are presumed to be less productive and less trainable, and workers are less likely to be hired if older. Economically, ageism results in $850 billion of lost productivity every year.

In his research, Dr. Gonzales wanted to interrogate further who exactly faces age discrimination. Everyone is affected by ageism, Dr. Gonzales observed through findings in his research—younger and older workers alike, with middle-aged workers reporting relatively less discrimination. Ageism has demonstrable negative impacts on job satisfaction, career commitment, turnover intention, mental health, and even self-reported physical health.

Dr. Gonzales also examined experiences of ageist discrimination across racial identities—looking specifically at data from white, Hispanic, and Black workers. All three racial groups reported experiencing significant amounts of ageist discrimination. Black Americans were far more likely to report being discriminated against based on race than whites and Hispanics, with racial discrimination being often reported than age discrimination. White respondents were most likely to report ageist discrimination, with reports of racial discrimination being rare. Hispanics reported age and racial discrimination almost equally.

Outside of the quantitative data he presented, Dr. Gonzales observed that for individuals who experience discrimination intersectionally—such as for both their age and race—discrimination is a co-occurring event. In other words, being an older Black woman in the workplace represents its own singular experience, not reducible to a sum of discriminations based on being ‘older,’ ‘Black,’ and ‘female.’

Finally, Dr. Gonzales noted that despite its prevalence among people of all ages, only 8 percent of companies have policies to designed to combat age discrimination as part of their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. To close his presentation, he highlighted the need for national legislation to protect workers from age-based discrimination.

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About the Author

Photo of Adam Felts
Adam Felts

Adam Felts is a researcher and writer at the MIT AgeLab. Currently he is involved in research on the experiences of family caregivers and the future of financial advice. He also manages the AgeLab blog and newsletter. He received his Master's in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Boston University in 2014 and his Master's of Theological Studies from Boston University in 2019.

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