The Invisibility of Older Women...
Ageism and sexism combine to effectively "erase" older women, contributing to their poverty, adverse health impacts, and social isolation.
The authors of a new research paper on women and aging have a unique perspective.
Barbara H, Chasin, 82, and Laura Kramer, 75, both former professors at Montclair State University in New Jersey, are social scientists with real-life experienced in aging.
They have both tracked and experienced the “patterns that ignore the existence of older women or distort their characteristics in ways that diminish the likelihood of equitable treatment.”
They published a research paper this week in Advances in Gender Research that shows how the convergence of ageism and sexism marginalize older women.
The term ‘systemic annihilation’ describes the lack of representation of older women in the media, write the authors. They say older women are not only underrepresented in movie and television roles but they often are caricatured in unflattering ways.
The invisibility of older women also can be seen during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The authors note that women tend to live longer than men and often live alone. “Older people who live alone, do not have cars, and/or live miles from vaccination centers were less likely to be vaccinated, or were vaccinated later in the pandemic than others,” they write.
People also were expected to sign up on-line to schedule their vaccination, which contributed to lower vaccination rates for older people because they were more likely to lack access to or expertise with the internet.
Moreover, the authors note that women historically were ignored in medical research, which tended to focus on men. The authors state women’s experiences with respect to some diseases (i.e. autoimmune disease) differ from men’s and women have unique health issues (i.e. menopause).
The authors also note that older women are more likely to have fewer resources for dealing with health problems than men because women have lower incomes.
The authors argue that the Social Security Administration has effectively rendered invisible the needs of older women.
They write that the structure of Social Security contributes to higher poverty rates for older women because it is based on how much an individual paid into the system. The authors note women tend to have lower earnings due to:
Well documented sexism in hiring, retention and promotion by employers have “certainly contributed to lower payments” for women.
The lack of social value attached to the unpaid labor of women, who are more likely to take care of family members and keep the household going than men. Women tend to take more time out of the labor market and are more likely to require flexibility in scheduling those hours.
The U.S. labor movement initially focused on their male membership’s needs, allowing contracts that permit employers to demand double or rotating shifts, which are more difficult for women with family care responsibilities, leading to lower rates of employment in these well-paid jobs.
In addition, Social Security formerly excluded occupations like restaurant and domestic work, performed mainly by women, as well as “under the table” employment.
The economic needs of people whose labor was excluded by Social Security “were invisible - erased by the government.”
The authors say the negative consequences resulting from ageism / sexism are worse for people of color, who also encounter racism.
The authors suggest some proposed policy changes that would increase the quality of life for older women, including:
Government incentives, through funding of public housing, to increase the availability of housing units for older individuals living alone;
Increased oversight of the nursing home “industry” to ensure quality care; and,
Expansion of Medicare to include hearing, vision and dental services.
They also propose a “public awareness campaign about age and ageism” to increase support for enlightened social policies and to address the negative stereotypes about ageism.