Our Guest Editors: Committed to the Case Against Structural Ageism

The two guest editors of SAGE’s 2023 Supplement to Generations Journal on Structural Ageism are deep thinkers who have turned their attention to the structures in our society that allow ageism to flourish.

Michael Adams has since 2006 been the CEO of SAGE and served on ASA’s Board of Directors for a decade, chairing it from 2020 to 2022. Prior to SAGE Adams was director of Education & Public Affairs for Lambda Legal, and had already spent a decade as an LGBTQ+ rights litigator, at the ACLU and at Lambda Legal.

Having seen in the aging sector how the predominant understanding of ageism has zeroed in on social attitudes, which clearly need to evolve, Adams said, “I believe we have missed an important part of the story by not focusing enough attention on the systems and structures that reinforce ageism.”

Much like systemic racism, the systems and structures are pernicious because on their face they seem neutral, and thus often are not recognized. “I’ve spent considerable time,” said Adams, “working on strategies to shine a spotlight on the structural aspects of ageism, and how we can deconstruct systemic ageism inside our organizations, in our field, and in our society.”

Rani Kronick comes at the work from the writerly end of things, as a political scientist, writer, researcher and editor, who has been active in civil and human rights struggles for years. As a political scientist her tendency is to focus on the structural basis of social issues, and much of her working life has been spent analyzing and commenting on the biases elders encounter and on the struggles to change the laws and institutions that perpetuate it.

“The glaring obviousness of structural ageism, along with the lack of attention it attracts, makes me particularly passionate about education and advocacy to combat it,” said Kronick. She also has spent time working with the Diverse Elders Coalition and in the disability-rights movement. Both experiences have shown her how different forms of structural bias intersect with and reinforce one another.

“The resilience of the communities affected make me believe that we can, with hard work, make progress in ending structural ageism,” Kronick said.

“It’s equally important that we build an action agenda to do everything we can to eradicate ageism and ableism in our world.”

The guest editors’ personal lives also contribute to their passion on the topic. Adams is a gay man in his 60s who increasingly sees how ageism intersects with his experiences as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, which only serves to increase his desire to change the status quo.

Kronick often lives with her 92-year-old father and sees his and his siblings’ struggles with the institutions they depend upon and the laws that regulate their lives as older adults. She’s just beginning to face similar issues as a late middle-ager. But as someone who has confronted structural ableism much of her life, she’s now seeing the commonalities between biases against older adults and those against people with disabilities.

“This issue provides a rare opportunity to bring together diverse perspectives on structural ageism and its intersections with other forms of bias,” said Kronick, who hopes the issue will be instrumental in educating aging-services professionals about the issue and provide a new way for them to understand issues they encounter with their clients and in their work.

Adams agreed, mentioning that it’s essential to shine a much bigger spotlight on the realities of structural ageism and ableism from an intersectional perspective—both how ageism and ableism intersect with one another and how they affect elders who are members of marginalized communities. “It’s equally important that we build an action agenda to do everything we can to eradicate ageism and ableism in our world.”

Kronick noted that although the terms ageism and ageist have entered our social discourse, they are usually seen as reflections of individual attitudes or poor word choices. “While these social attitudes are real, they are based on and perpetuated by institutions and structures (including laws, historic practices, rules and regulations) that limit elders’ choices and autonomy so profoundly that they are not always perceived by the victims,” she said.

“Removing these structures is challenging,” added Kronick, “but I truly believe the more we talk about them, and connect them to other forms of bias, the closer we come to achieving real solutions.”

These guest editors ensured that this issue of Generations Journal brought together an impressive cross-section of contributors who provide powerful analysis on how to understand the operation of structural ageism and ableism from multiple social perspectives. And it offers several strategic approaches and blueprints for how to translate these important understandings into transformational change.

“My hope,” said Adams, “is that the issue will encourage conversation and debate about theory, and also spark advocacy and action.”

Alison Biggar is ASA's Editorial Director.

Photo credit: Shutterstock/Anastasiia Guseva