This Chair Rocks
A Manifesto Against Ageism
Aging isn’t a problem or a disease. Everyone’s doing it, from newborns to 99-year-olds, and more of us are doing more of it: there are more healthy adults than ever before in human history. Why is this remarkable achievement often depicted as a “gray tsunami” of incapacitated olders? Because of ageism—discrimination on the basis of age, a prejudice against our future selves. “Solve for ageism,” says activist Ashton Applewhite, and we also address sexism (aging is gendered), ableism (we’re afraid of losing our physical or cognitive capacity), and racism (which denies to multitudes the chance to age at all). The author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism and a TED mainstage speaker, Ashton is a leading voice of the emerging anti-ageism movement. Warm, funny, and straight-talking, Ashton describes her journey from apprehensive fifty-something to pro-aging radical, debunking myths and stereotypes along the way. Ashton calls aging “a powerful, fascinating, lifelong process that unites us all,” and guarantees that after listening to her, you’ll feel a whole lot better about the years ahead.
“Fierce and funny yet practical and thoughtful...Offering much food for thought and abundant realistic steps to engender positive change.”— Booklist
Ashton Applewhite asks us to challenge the forces that frame two-thirds of life as decline and some lives as more valuable than others. “It’s not ethical—or legal—to allocate resources by race or sex,” she points out, “and weighing the needs of the young against the old is equally unacceptable. Period.” She helps audiences perceive age bias between our ears and in the world around us; explains why age is a key criterion for diversity; teaches organizations how to reap the rewards of a mixed-age workforce; and shows why age belongs alongside race, gender, sexuality, and other identifiers that require us to think deeply and inclusively about how we live.
In a world of longer lives, the stakes are high and the time is now. In 2020, the World Economic Forum recognized the global community’s “role and responsibility to combat ageism.” In 2021, the World Health Organization launched its Global Campaign to Combat Ageism. In 2022, Ashton appeared on the first international edition of 40 over 40 – The World’s Most Inspiring Women because global conversations about equity can no longer overlook age.
Ashton’s trailblazing book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, was listed as one of the “100 Best Books to Read at Every Age” by the Washington Post and named by Forbes As one of “10 Books To Help You Foster a More Diverse and Inclusive Workplace.” This Chair Rocks explores the roots of ageism and how it divides us, examines how ageist stereotypes affect our bodies and minds, and lays out a road map for what an all-age-friendly world could look like. It ends with a rousing call to action, which Library Journal called “a spark for social change.” Ashton is fanning this spark into a blaze of social revoluton and transformation, encouraging us to cultivate age-neutral mindsets and envision the immense possibilities of age equity—in our professional lives, in our communities, and in ourselves.
In 2022, Ashton has appeared on HelpAgeUSA’s inaugural 60 Over 60 list of Americans “who are making significant contributions to society at the local, national or international level”; Fe:maleOneZero’s first international edition of 40 over 40 – The World’s Most Inspiring Women (referenced above), a group of “extraordinary women who have one thing in common: they change the world for the better”; and received the prestigious Maggie Kuhn Award for being a “visionary leader, author and advocate in combating ageism.” She has written for Harper’s, the New York Times, The Guardian, and the Los Angeles Review of Books, and has spoken at venues that range from community centers and universities to the TED main stage and the United Nations.
“Our attendees loved hearing Ashton Applewhite explore all the facets of age bias. With a writer’s tenacity and grace, Applewhite takes the listener by the hand, walks them through the data and layers of consideration in which her ideas are grounded, and guides them towards at a more empathetic view of what it’s like to be ‘othered' in our fast-paced world. We simply loved having her!”National Apartment Association
“Ashton, I wanted to thank you for such a brilliant interview. I had fully expected the content to be rich and aligned with my work, but what really impressed me was your delivery. To say it was refreshing is an enormous understatement. It was no-nonsense, direct, transparent, and unabashedly honest. I came away thinking I would listen to you any day—no matter what your message. My only complaint is that most often I am able to check my email while only half-listening to these virtual forums. Your presentation was so unique my email was left completely unattended...Please don't ever stop voicing your opinions.”Global Institute for Experienced Entrepreneurship
“This was a fantastic event. One of meaning, and which contributed so much to our company culture. Ashton was so full of content and very engaging—she did not know it but she was providing a "To Do" list for all the Inclusive Resource Groups on how to educate and stop ageism within our company. Thank you for helping us create this event. It has been our most memorable to date company-wide! Folks are still talking about the subject matter and her delightful, informative speech. It definitely made a difference as we are working with HR and hope to develop training material for them and managers to teach how to avoid ageism.”Indeed
“Ashton's talk really provided an in-depth understanding of the pervasive nature of ageism and ablism. Judging by the immediate feedback, the presentation was very well received. We truly appreciate Ashton's help discussing this dimension of diversity topic.”UXDS I&D Committee
“Ashton was a big hit with our audience and they loved her message and energy! What an engaging speaker!”Rancho Mirage Writers Festival
“Ashton Applewhite’s thoughtful, funny, and very smart talk This Chair Rocks was perfect for launching our new center. It attracted a lively, multigenerational crowd, reflected our core message that aging can be met head-on with optimism, and got people fired up about the prospect. What could be better?”Senior Planet Exploration Center, NYC
“Ageism begins at home—in us. With humor and insight, Ashton Applewhite’s terrific keynote at the Positive Aging Conference reminded all of us what's at stake, since elders are ‘our future selves.’ Thank goodness we've got her telling this story.”AARP
“This Chair Rocks is a talk that confirms our knowledge that emotional well being is abundant in later life, challenges us to face our own internalized ageism, and inspires us to envision a future in which our society is released from the fetters of age-related prejudice and discrimination. And it’s fun, too!”Geriatric Mental Health Alliance of New York
“Every attendee was captivated by Ashton Applewhite’s charm, intelligence, and easy way of explaining the origins and complexities of ageism. I knew her keynote resonated, as they gave her a standing ovation and then bought her book! This presentation is a must for any group interested in raising awareness of age bias and dispelling harmful myths and stereotypes.”Deal With It: A Woman’s Conference
“Applewhite ... was by turns factual, passionate, and witty as she recounted anecdotes from her own life and the lives of “olders” she has encountered. She coined that term because it emphasizes the spectrum along which chronological age becomes increasingly irrelevant. The audience gave Applewhite a rousing ovation and stayed around for a lively discussion afterwards.”The Cooper Union
“Thank you so much for your very valuable contribution to our retirement conference. Your keynote received so many positive comments that I don’t know where to start (the most frequent comment was, ‘Inspiring!’).”Brookdale Community College
“Ashton Applewhite’s plenary address at our New York State Adult Abuse Training Institute was compelling and original, and really resonated with our 400 participants. She is an articulate and committed voice for an important cause: challenging the demoralizing shadow that ageism casts across society.”Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging
“Thank you again for your terrific keynote. I heard from so many attendees that it affected them deeply. You are wise, funny, and provocative – a great combination!”Aroha Philanthropies
There’s a global labor shortage. Research shows that age diversity confers a wide range of benefits. Companies enjoy an advantage in the war for talent because they can tap into more human and social capital. Organizational outcomes are better; mixed-age teams are especially good at complex decision-making, for example. Retaining older employees reduces turnover and safeguards invaluable institutional knowledge, which reduces costs. Mixed-age teams bring together people with complementary skills, experience, and networks.
Yet ageism in the workplace is rampant. This is particularly ironic in a world of longer lives. It robs millions of the opportunity to earn and save, and costs the global economy trillions. This talk explains how age discrimination disadvantages workers at both ends of the spectrum; explores its roots in toxic narratives that promote intergenerational competition and resentment; explains why old vs. young framing is so tempting—and corrosive; and sets out the many ways organizations and employees can detect and prevent age bias.
From childhood on, we’re barraged by messages that it’s sad to be old. That wrinkles are embarrassing and old people are useless. In this provocative, funny, and deeply informed talk, Applewhite explains the roots of ageism—in society and in our own age denial—and how it divides and diminishes us. Applewhite sets out the personal and professional consequences (especially for women), shows how ageist myths and stereotypes cripple the way our brains and bodies function, critiques the portrayal of elders as burdens to society, describes what an all-age-friendly world would look like, and concludes with a rousing call to action. It’s time to work together to make discrimination on the basis of age as unacceptable as any other prejudice.
Every year an estimated one in ten Americans over age 60—over seven million people— experiences some form of abuse. 95% of cases go undetected. Nonetheless, unlike domestic violence or child abuse, we don’t talk about it much. Raised to value youth and speed, we grossly underestimate the quality of life of older people, as well as its value. We project our fears. We turn away, reluctant to acknowledge that we, too, are aging and some impairment awaits us all. And when we see people as “other” than ourselves, their welfare seems less of a human right.
This talk explains how ageism and ableism (discrimination against older and disabled people, respectively) inform and compound each other, allowing abuse to go unchallenged—the “ugly dance” to which the title refers. This dance reinforces denial and dual stigma. (“I may need help getting around but at least I’m not in a wheelchair!” “I may be disabled, but at least I’m not old.”) It also makes the work of people in Adult Protective Services infinitely tougher, by making their clients seem less worthy of resources and respect, making it harder to protect their civil rights, sanctioning segregation and isolation, and making a good death less likely. Ageism and ableism stand between everyone—especially the most vulnerable among us—and the safe and comfortable old age we all deserve. We have the skills and the tools to disrupt this dance. In a world of longer lives, we can’t afford not to.
What makes aging different for women—and so much harder than it has to be? How does the double impact of ageism and sexism affect women’s health, income, and well-being? And how does competing to “stay young” dig the hole even deeper? In this rousing talk, Ashton Applewhite proposes throwing away the shovel, forging cross-generational compacts, and collaborating on new ways of thinking and behaving. The women’s movement taught us to claim our power; a pro-aging movement will teach us to hold onto it.