Segregation is defined as a separation between groups of people, usually by race, gender, culture, or ethnicity. However, emerging research highlighted in a recent Boston Globe story indicates that ageism—dividing people by age or generation—has become rampant in our society. This trend has sociologists and other researchers concerned, particularly as the older population is expected to increase dramatically over the next twenty years.

Some of the societal effects of age segregation can cause young people to dismiss senior citizens as feeble or useless, while older adults mistrust the younger generation as careless and wasteful. Neither side gains anything from the perpetuation of these stereotypes, which only serve to further isolate these age groups from each other.

The Boston Globe article notes that research examining the effects of intergenerational interaction has revealed positive outcomes on both sides of the generational divide. For example, studies have found that seniors living in retirement communities enjoy reading to and playing with children, while young people who interact with senior citizens can gain wisdom and life experience.

Some communities have embraced this concept and are actively working to bring generations together. One example is The Silver Pen, an essay competition for high school seniors that fosters a connection and better understanding between young people and senior citizens. Essay entries are judged by residents of participating retirement communities, and a scholarship award is given to the winners.

“There’s no doubt that we can do a better job of educating our children and young adults about important topics related to aging in America,” said Marcel Tremble, executive director of The Lakes at Litchfield, one of the participating retirement communities. “The goal of The Silver Pen is to get young adults interested in the process of aging so that we can foster a culture of mutual understanding and respect for the aged in our society.”

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