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Bet You Didn’t Know: 7 Surprising Facts on Aging

Bet You Didn’t Know: 7 Surprising Facts on Aging

As we work to end ageism, we must stand ready to call out thoughts and actions – our own and others’ – that marginalize or devalue older people. Like every other “ism,” ageism has no place in San Francisco. How much do you really know about aging and the effects of ageism? Read on to find out.

#1 Old age is a period of relative happiness.
People tend to be happiest during their youth and old age. Numerous studies in both the United States and around the world show a “U-shaped happiness curve, with adults about as happy in their early 20s as they are in their 80s and 90s.1, 2

#2 Most of us will age at home.
Over 90% of older adults say they would prefer to age at home, and most will. Only 2.5% of Americans over 65 live in nursing homes, and that number is dropping. Even among people aged 85 or more, only 9% live in nursing homes.3

#3 Older adults are an economic engine.
While Americans over 50 are only about a third of the population, they generate almost half of the US total gross domestic product (GDP). In 2015, older adults were 35% of the population, yet they contributed $7.6 trillion to our economy, or 43 percent of our total GDP.4

#4 Intergenerational workplaces are more productive.
Studies have found that teams with mixed ages perform better than single generation teams. In addition, older people in multigenerational teams tend to boost the productivity of those around them.5

#5 Ageism starts early.
Stereotypes about aging start when we’re young – often as early as age four – and these negative assumptions are reinforced throughout our lives. In one survey, 80% of people over 60 said that they have experienced ageism, such as assumptions about reduced memory or physical capabilities.6

#6 Ageism in medicine harms our health.
“Ageism in American medicine and society is a matter of life and death– as dangerous as any incorrectly prescribed medicine or slipped scalpel,”7 says Dr. Mark Lachs in the book Treat Me Not My Age. These negative stereotypes result in less effective care. For instance, problems like cognitive impairment caused by complex drug regimens aren’t as frequently recognized or treated in older adults.8

#7 Overcoming ageism can help you live longer.
Ageism is not only harmful to individuals and our society as a whole. Negative assumptions about aging may even shorten how long we live. On average, people with more positive views about aging lived 7.5 years longer than those with negative views.9 And older adults who are exposed to more positive views about aging have significantly better memory and balance, while negative views contributed to feelings of worthlessness and worse memory.10


  1. Nicholas Bakalar, “Happiness May Come With Age, Study Says,” New York Times, May 31, 2010,
  2. David G. Blanchflower, Andrew Oswald. “Do Humans Suffer a Psychological Low in Midlife? Two Approaches (With and Without Controls) in Seven Data Sets.” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 23724, August 2017.
  3. A Profile of Older Americans: 2016,” Administration for Community Living, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
  4. AARP, “The Longevity Economy: How People over 50 Are Driving Economic and Social Value in the US.” September 2016
  5. “The New Old: Getting to Grips with Longevity,” The Economist: Special Report online, last modified July 6, 2017. with-longevity
  6. Becca R. Levy et al. “Longevity Increased by Positive Self-Perceptions of Aging,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 83, no. 2 (2003): 261-270.

    Melissa Dittmann, “Fighting Ageism,” The American Psychological Association Monitor 34, no. 5 (2003): 50.

  7. Mark Lachs, M.D., Treat Me, Not My Age: A Doctor’s Guide to Getting the Best Care as You or a Loved One Gets Older. (New York: Viking Press, 2010), 3.
  8. Dittmann
  9. Dittmann
  10. Levy et al.