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Mature Content: Over the hill and out to lunch? Not really!

Locations: Columns, Opinion Published

By Ron Kokish

I’ve always believed that deeds define us and respect must be earned. As a lad, I didn’t understand why I was expected to defer to older people. At age 82, the shoe is on the other foot, and I’m still puzzled. By 70, we’ve taken nearly 588 million breaths and experienced over 2.5 billion heartbeats. But it’s what we’ve done during all this autonomic, cardiovascular activity that, in my opinion, ought to determine the deference we deserve. Like anyone, I appreciate being treated courteously, but until you know something more of me than my age, I do not deserve or expect any special deference.

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Society apparently disagrees with me. Having achieved the requisite breaths and heartbeats, I began receiving a constant stream of information about older people losing money to online scammers. At markets, people began urging me into line in front of them. Uncle Sam lowered my income tax bill and Colorado lowered my property taxes. Garfield County began offering me free lunches. Fred Meyer offered me monthly senior discounts. Piggly Wiggly offered them weekly and Denny’s, daily. 

When I exit places where I’ve taken advantage of my discounts, my juniors now rush to open doors, lest I become unduly tired on the way back to my bicycle. If I stop said bicycle to admire trailside scenery, odds are that, within 60 seconds, someone will slow down and ask, “Is everything all right, sir?” 

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I’ve not been knighted, but strangers under 50 now regularly address me as “sir.” If I mention being 82, I often hear, “You don’t look a day over [insert disingenuous number of your choice].” 

In short, too many people 15 or more years younger than me seem strangely prone to protecting me, reassuring me, giving me stuff, and generally sucking up. And that, my friends, is ageism; something I dislike almost as much as racism and sexism.

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Ageism is a set of preconceived beliefs about people based on their age. And worse, these beliefs often determine how we treat them. I’m neither proud nor ashamed of my age, and I don’t mind looking it. I wish people would simply compliment my admittedly stunning appearance without referencing age. Fawning over wrinkles is ageism. 

People who hold doors for me based on the mistaken belief that I am less able than they are to manage doors, these are the same people who decline to hire me based on the equally mistaken belief that I will take more time off because of my failing health. In fact, workers in the 20-30 age group miss significantly more days of work than those over 60, according to reporting at

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And those warnings! I was online years before the internet became publicly available, and I have never been scammed. Nor am I unique. Contrary to popular belief, people ages 20-29 fall prey to online scammers more than twice as often as people over 65 (as reported by the New York Times in 2021).

Nor are older people uniquely in need of discounts and tax breaks. While people over 65 have lower annual incomes than entry-level workers (, we have had five or more decades to save, and many of us have. 

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Median net worth for households headed by someone under 35 is less than $14,000 dollars. For households headed by a 70-year-old, it exceeds $266,000. By 75, however, it decreases by $12,000, indicating that older Americans spend their accumulated wealth to supplement their relatively modest incomes (

The poverty rate for Americans under 17 is 15.7%; for those over 65, it’s 10.3%. People over 65 represent 17.9% of Americans, but are only about 3% of the homeless population. As a group, older Americans are not particularly poor. If age-based discounts, tax breaks and freebies make sense at all, they make more sense when applied to young families with children than to older people.

Older Americans are active and productive, often well into our 80s and even 90s. We are 17.9% of the population and pay over 18% of federal income tax. According to one extensive study, in 21 of 50 states, including four of the five most populous states, people over 65 contribute more to their state’s economy than we use in services. In Colorado, our economic contribution is 7% more than our usage ( We pay our way, and then some.

In closing, though I’m writing about ageism from the perspective of someone over 65, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that elders are not ageism’s only targets. Think about an older person meeting their new, 30-something doctor. It isn’t hard to imagine them wondering if such a young person could really be medically competent and, perhaps, not following their medical advice. 

If ageism shouldn’t keep us from seeing the person behind the wrinkles, it shouldn’t keep us from seeing the person behind the acne either.

Mature Content is a monthly feature from the Carbondale AARP Age-Friendly Community Initiative (CAFCI)

Tags: #ageism #aging #CAFCI #Carbondale Age-Friendly Community Initiative #Mature Content #Ron Kokish
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