The High Cost of Ageism: Calculating Health Care Expenses Associated with Ageism

In an effort to influence international policy change to reduce ageism, a recent study investigated the health care costs of ageism in the US.

Using data from a systematic review of ageism-health studies, the Health and Retirement Study, and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the researchers compared differences in health care spending between older adults who had experienced a high amount of ageism and older adults who had experienced a low amount of ageism.

To calculate ageism, the researchers considered how often participants reported feeling discriminated against based on their age, how much participants endorsed age-related stereotypes, and participants’ perceptions of their own aging. Excess health care spending due to ageism was calculated based on the prevalence of eight of the ten most expensive health conditions among US adults age 60 or older. Researchers also examined how many health conditions are due to ageism.

After adjusting for age and sex, the researchers concluded that the total excess cost of ageism in the US was $63 billion in 2013. This is one-seventh of all spending related to these eight conditions! Broken down, this amounted to $33.7 billion due to negative self-perceptions of aging, $28.5 billion due to negative age stereotypes, and $11.1 billion in excess spending due to age discrimination, with some overlap among the three domains of ageism.

Additionally, 17.04 million cases of health conditions over one year were due to ageism. When examined individually, each of the eight health conditions had a higher cost per person and higher prevalence among older adults experiencing high amounts of ageism.

The results of this study suggest that ageism places a significant economic burden on countries and that reducing ageism is not only better for older adults’ quality of life, but can also greatly reduce health care costs. To address this, the researchers noted the importance of offering large-scale interventions to address societal sources of ageism.


Levy BR, Slade MD, Chang E-S, et al. Ageism amplifies cost and prevalence of health conditions. The Gerontologist. (2018). DOI: 10.1093/geront/gny131.


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