Assets of ageing - a social gerontologist's view

Reasons to be cheerful about global efforts to stamp out ageism across the generations on this week’s The Big Middle.

Jeanette Leardi is a social gerontologist and a prolific writer and speaker on ageing issues. She’s one of the leading lights of an international civil rights movement against ageism – a movement that’s finally gaining ground after years of shouting from the sidelines.

I spoke with her from her home in Portland, Oregon.


  • Her work as a social gerontologist, educational tools she uses
  • The importance of ideas, words, actions to end the scourge of ageism
  • The intergenerational aspect and other insights into the work of American social activist Maggie Kuhn, founder of the Gray Panthers movement in the 70s
  • The many, little-understood assets of ageing – better emotional regulation, communication and information discrimination, greater capacity to solve problems thanks to midlife development of the Corpus Callosum, a bridge of tissue connecting brain hemispheres

    “It doesn’t fully mature until we’re in our 50s, which means that once we’re in our 50s, we have the greatest capacity to use both sides of our brain at the same time. What does that mean in terms of relating to the world? Older adults problem solve differently than when were younger. We can see an issue from more sides, from more perspectives simultaneously.”

  • The fluid nature of the concept of age across the spectrum – survey illustrating that “no matter how old you are, someone thinks you’re already old, even if you’re 13.”
  • Her take on ageist phrases such as ‘over the hill’ and stubborn misperceptions around olders and technological change
  • Need for deep structural change to reflect current, longer life course
  • More heartening insights into workings of brains of olders
  • Her ‘child in decline’ thought experiment that always raises hackles of olders who hear it
  • Reasons to be cheerful – “we’re at a tipping point” – about progress of global efforts to stop ageism across the age spectrum and all the other isms plaguing rich societies


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4 Replies to “Jeanette Leardi”

  1. Laura Kelly

    Jeanette really knows her stuff. I love the questions we can ask ourselves as we get older, which will lead to interesting answers. I hope her wishes for a change in the historical devaluing of older people start coming true soon.

  2. Wendl K

    Great insights and observations from Jeanette Leardi. I’m glad she referenced Maggie Kuhn – I shared this link with the President of the NYC Chapter of Gray Panthers. I also really liked Jeanette’s definition of older people as “Master Climbers.” It’s a great visual!

    • Susan Flory

      Indeed Wendl. She has a wonderful way of painting word pictures. That one suggests power and no end of resilience.

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