Life / Health > Aging > Older
people > Age discrimination, Age bias, Ageism
Ageism in Our Society
The Opinion Pages | Sunday Dialogue
NYT FEB. 7, 2015
older and out of work
IT’S a baby boomer’s nightmare.
you’re 40-ish and moving up,
the next you’re 50-plus
and suddenly, shockingly, moving out
— jobless in a tough economy.
Too young to retire,
too old to start over.
Robert Neil Butler USA
discrimination against the elderly > “ageism.”
ageism at work / in UK worplaces
Is Dead at 83
July 6, 2010
The New York Times
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Dr. Robert N. Butler, a psychiatrist whose painful youthful realization that
death is inevitable prompted him to challenge and ultimately reform the
treatment of the elderly through research, public policy and a Pulitzer
Prize-winning book, died Sunday in Manhattan. He was 83 and had worked until
three days before his death.
The cause was acute leukemia, his daughter Christine Butler said.
Dr. Butler’s influence was apparent in the widely used word he coined to
describe discrimination against the elderly: “ageism.” He defended as healthy
the way many old people slip into old memories — even giving it a name, “life
In speech after speech, he pounded home the message that longevity in the United
States had increased by 30 years in the 20th century — greater than the gain
during the preceding 5,000 years of human history — and that this had led to
profound changes in every aspect of society, employment and politics among them.
Dr. Christine Cassel, president of the American Board of Internal Medicine, said
in an interview that Dr. Butler had in effect “created an entire field of
medicine.” She said he had helped change attitudes so that aging could be
perceived “a positive thing.”
Dr. Butler was the founding director of the National Institute on Aging at the
National Institutes of Health and advocated for the aging before Congress and
the United Nations. He helped start and led the American Association for
Geriatric Psychiatry, the Alzheimer’s Disease Association and the International
Longevity Center. President Bill Clinton named him chairman of the 1995 White
House Conference on Aging.
“He really put geriatrics on the map,” Dr. David B. Reuben, chief of the
division of geriatrics at the University of California, Los Angeles, said in an
Dr. Butler challenged long-held conceptions about aging, calling it “the
neglected stepchild of the human life cycle.” He helped establish, for example,
that senility is not inevitable with aging. When the Heinz Family Foundation
presented him with an award in 2003, it called him “a prophetic visionary.”
The most noted exposition of his vision was the 1975 book that earned him his
Pulitzer, “Why Survive? Being Old in America.” It went from a bleak explication
of the elderly’s condition to prescriptions to improve it.
“Human beings need the freedom to live with change, to invent and reinvent
themselves a number of times through their lives,” Dr. Butler wrote.
Dr. Butler’s mission emerged from his childhood, he wrote in his book. His
parents had scarcely named him Robert Neil Butler before splitting up 11 months
after his birth on Jan. 21, 1927, in Manhattan. He went to live with his
maternal grandparents on a chicken farm in Vineland, N.J.
He came to revere his grandfather, with whom he cared for sick chickens in the
“hospital” at one end of the chicken house. He loved the old man’s stories. But
the grandfather disappeared when Robert was 7, and nobody would tell him why. He
finally learned that he had died.
Robert found solace in his friendship with a physician he identified only as Dr.
Rose. Dr. Rose had helped him through scarlet fever and took him on his rounds
by horse and carriage. The boy decided he could have helped his grandfather
survive had he been a doctor. He also concluded that he would have preferred
that people had been honest with him about death.
From his grandmother, he learned about the strength and endurance of the
elderly, he wrote. After losing the farm in the Depression, she and her grandson
lived on government-surplus foods and lived in a cheap hotel. Robert sold
newspapers. Then the hotel burned down, with all their possessions.
“What I remember even more than the hardships of those years was my
grandmother’s triumphant spirit and determination,” he wrote. “Experiencing at
first hand an older person’s struggle to survive, I was myself helped to survive
Dr. Butler served in the United States Maritime Service before entering Columbia
University, where he earned his bachelor’s and medical degrees. During his
internship in psychiatry at St. Luke’s Hospital, he had many elderly patients
and realized how little he had been taught about treating them. He began reading
about the biology of aging.
After his residency at the University of California, San Francisco, he worked at
the National Institute of Mental Health as a research psychiatrist. He studied
the central nervous system in elderly people, work that became part of a large
study of aging. He also helped Ralph Nader investigate problems in nursing
The book that emerged from his experiences proposed many specific reforms to
help old people, including a national service corps that would enlist the
elderly as community volunteers.
In 1975 he succeeded in creating a National Institute on Aging and was its head
for six years.
“Nobody thought research on aging was a legitimate field until Bob came along
and convinced them to create a separate institute,” Dr. Cassel said.
In 1982, the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in Manhattan asked Dr. Butler’s
advice on whom to hire for a new geriatrics chair. He proposed instead that the
school create a department devoted solely to gerontology. It did, and was one of
the first to do so.
He wrote numerous articles and several books, including the bestseller “Sex
after Sixty,” which he wrote with his second wife, Dr. Myrna I. Lewis, in 1976.
Dr. Butler’s first marriage, to Diane McLaughlin, ended in divorce. Dr. Lewis
died in 2005. Besides his daughter Christine, he is survived by three other
daughters, Carole Butler Hall, Cynthia Butler and Alexandra Butler; and six
Dr. Butler acknowledged in an interview two years ago with The Saturday Evening
Post that his views on his own aging had changed: he feared death less.
“I feel less threatened by the end of life than I perhaps did when I was 35,” he
Robert Butler, Aging
Expert, Is Dead at 83,
65 and Up and Looking for Work
October 24, 2009
The New York Times
By STEVEN GREENHOUSE
It is well known that during the nation’s gale-force recession, many older
Americans who dreamed of retirement continued to work, often because their
401(k)’s had plunged in value.
In fact, there are more Americans 65 and older in the job market today than at
any time in history, 6.6 million, compared with 4.1 million in 2001.
Less well known, though, is that nearly half a million workers 65 and older want
to work but cannot find a job — more than five times the level early this decade
and this group’s highest unemployment level since the Great Depression.
The situation is made more dire because of numerous recent trends: many people
over 65 have lost their jobs as seniority protections have weakened, and like
most other Americans, a higher percentage of them took on debt than in previous
The expectation once was to pay off your 30-year mortgage before you retired, or
come close. Instead, the level of indebtedness among older Americans has risen
faster than in any other age group, partly because so many obtained second
mortgages to take money out of their homes.
This financial squeeze is one reason President Obama has proposed giving a
special $250 one-time payment to all Social Security recipients.
Many out-of-work older Americans complain that they face foreclosure or have had
to give up their car.
“It’s a big deal for a lot of these people not to find a job,” said David
Certner, legislative policy director for AARP. “That so many of them are still
trying to find work shows how bad the economic situation is. A lot of people
normally give up at that age.”
The unemployment rate for older Americans is still much better than for others —
6.7 percent compared with 9.8 percent in the general population. But 6.7 percent
is more than double the level of two years ago — and far higher than the
minuscule 1.9 percent rate early this decade.
And unemployed older workers stay out of work longer — 36.5 weeks on average, 40
percent longer than for the unemployed in general.
Patricia Warmhold, who has worked as a translator and telemarketer, would love
to retire, but at age 67, she says that is out of the question.
Her mortgage payment is nearly $1,500 a month, and her car payments and auto
insurance are another $350. She receives $1,071 a month in Social Security and
$918 in pension.
“I have very little after the mortgage,” she said.
Ms. Warmhold, who speaks German, French and Creole, was laid off a year ago from
her job as an interpreter for a law firm. “I’ve been looking for jobs ever
since,” she said. “I applied to Nassau County and Suffolk County, and they don’t
A divorce worsened her financial situation, although her mother, who is in her
90s, helps by sometimes sending her $100.
“In a month’s time, I sent out 101 job applications,” she said, including more
than 50 to school districts, to no avail.
The recession has battered young, middle-aged and old, although several modern
trends have left older workers more vulnerable than in the past — for instance,
the shift toward 401(k)’s and away from traditional pensions that give retirees
a monthly stipend for life has pressured many Americans to continue working well
Another force pushing Americans to delay retirement is that the percentage of
companies that provide health coverage to retirees is half what it was two
decades ago. Moreover, the age to obtain full Social Security benefits has
increased to at least 66 for people born after 1942, from its traditional 65.
The median income for those 65 and over was just $18,208 in 2008 — a quarter of
them had incomes under $11,139, according to Patrick Purcell, an expert on older
workers and pensions with the Congressional Research Service.
The average Social Security recipient age 65 and over receives just $12,437 in
annual benefits, he said, and among individuals 65 and older who received income
from financial assets, half received less than $1,542 last year.
While Social Security keeps most seniors above the poverty line, there are a
substantial number near poverty “who are just getting by,” said Richard W.
Johnson, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. Many economists say it is good
that Americans are working later in life — many are living longer and able to
Still, many older job seekers insist they are losing out because of age
discrimination. Last year, nearly 25,000 workers filed age discrimination
complaints, a 29 percent jump over 2007, according to the Equal Employment
“I often get told that I’m overqualified,” said Barbara Brooks, 71, who retired
in 2003 after 30 years as an administrative assistant at the University of
California, Los Angeles. She said being told that is code language for “you’re
too old.” But Ms. Brooks said she wanted to work — and needed to — citing her
monthly mortgage of $1,500, which eats up half her monthly pension.
“I would like to be able to treat myself to a couple of dinners, maybe a movie,”
Ms. Brooks said. “I think as long as people have excellent skills, and they can
get around like a 40-year-old — I’ve been told I look 40 or 50 — why shouldn’t I
For years, unemployment among older Americans was largely ignored because so few
of them were jobless. But now more than a million Americans over age 60 are
unemployed, two-and-a-half times the level two years ago.
And at least jobless workers 65 and over are guaranteed health coverage through
Medicare. Workers laid off before that age often have to fend for themselves to
obtain health insurance, which is often prohibitively expensive for those over
One such worker is Michael Husar, 62, a former engineering manager who spent 38
years with General Motors and then its Delphi auto parts spinoff. Mr. Husar, a
resident of Scottsdale, Ariz., retired in 2003 at age 56, but as a result of
Delphi’s bankruptcy, he now has to purchase his own health insurance. He pays
$1,600 a month, which translates to $19,200 a year.
Despite two engineering degrees, his search for consulting work has come up
empty in recent months.
“There are two reasons I feel a need to continue working,” he said. “One, I
still have a lot to offer, and two, I need the money.”
Alicia H. Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston
College, says older workers have fared better by and large than younger workers
in this recession. The percentage of workers ages 25 to 54 with jobs has fallen
to 75 percent, from nearly 80 percent two years ago, while the percentage of
older Americans with jobs has risen slightly, to 16.3 percent.
But that is fewer than the number who want to work.
Patricia Piazza, 66, who worked for Chrysler for 30 years as an analyst, knows
that all too well.
She and her 72-year-old husband, a longtime employee at General Motors
Acceptance Corporation, had planned to retire by now, but she is hunting for
job, and he recently landed one with the local transit system.
Their home in Warren, Mich., has dropped $100,000 in value, Ms. Piazza said,
while their pensions, as former nonunion employees, will be far less than
anticipated because of the auto company bankruptcies.
Chrysler recently took away her life insurance policy and optical coverage, she
“It’s like the bottom fell out of everything” she said. “This isn’t the way we
65 and Up and Looking
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