Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (BOLLI)

Ageism: How We Are Personally Affected by Society's Prejudice Toward Older Women

Course Number


Study Group Leader (SGL)

Janice Burres


This course will take place virtually on Zoom. Participation in this course requires a device (ideally a computer or tablet, rather than a cell phone) with a camera and microphone in good working order and basic familiarity with using Zoom and accessing email

5-Week Course

Feb. 29 - March 28.


In classrooms across the U.S., it is not uncommon for young children to celebrate their 100th day of school by dressing up as a one-hundred-year-old. They wear frumpy clothing, use walkers, have curlers in their hair, and wear glasses. The exercise is demeaning; it creates caricatures of older people and feeds pervasive assumptions, judgments, and prejudices about being old. Generally, we no longer accept oppressive forms of cultural appropriation and we don’t support insensitive impersonations of others, with one glaring exception: old people. According to the World Health Organization, ageism is the most widespread and socially accepted prejudice today. Unlike race and sex stereotypes, we encounter age stereotypes decades before they refer to our own age group, so we rarely question or try to resist them. And they are frequently reinforced over our lifetimes as we are bombarded by messages in advertisements and media about older people.

Most people don’t realize they hold preconceptions about aging, yet everyone, everywhere, does. Unfortunately, most of the world’s prevailing cultural age beliefs today are negative. By examining these beliefs and discovering their origin, together with how they operate, we’ll have a basis for changing not only the narrative of aging, but the very manner in which we age. Among the topics we will discuss are the ways in which our own internal ageism makes it hard to value being old; how we are affected by the anti-aging messages of the beauty industry; and the implicit bias toward the elderly in healthcare. 

Group Leadership Style

More facilitated discussion than lecture.

Course Materials

We will read sections of each of the following books: Breaking the Age Code: How Your Beliefs about Aging Determine How Long and Well You Live by Becca Levy, Ph.D, Ageism Unmasked: Exploring Age Bias and How to End It by Tracey Gendron, Ph.D., Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life by Louise Aronson. Many copies of each book are available at the Minuteman libraries. AbeBooks also has copies at very low prices. Additional material will be available on a class website. 

Preparation Time

About 50 pages per week of nonfiction and additional brief articles/stories 


Janice double majored in English and education, earned a master’s degree in reading education, and completed the coursework for a master’s in counseling psychology. She taught middle and high school English for twenty years. As a communication specialist at Mckinsey, she traveled around the world training their consultants in writing, public speaking, and group facilitation. Later, she taught graduate courses to practicing K-12 teachers.