Ageing Yes, Ageism No
On 18 March, 2021 the World Health Organisation released the first Global Report on Ageism, and it’s a distressing read. In a stark reminder of prevalence of ageism, it provides evidence that 1 in 2 people worldwide are ageist. Half of the world’s population think and feel negatively about getting older, older people and this phase of life.
The report also showed the harm that ageism causes. For example, one in three people across all age groups in Europe report experiencing ageism. This includes being insulted, abused, excluded or denied services because of their age. We aren’t immune in Australia either, with the WHO findings according with a 2015 study on the prevalence of age discrimination in Australian workplaces which provides evidence that one in three people report experiencing age discrimination.
Ageing is a normal part of life. Ageism doesn’t have to be.
Ageism against older people is stereotyping, discrimination and mistreatment based solely upon age. Ageism comes from widespread social acceptance of negative attitudes and beliefs about the value of older people and later life. Ageism is how we think (stereotyping), act (discrimination) and feel (prejudices, biases) about getting older and older people.
Ageism is not benign or harmless. It is pervasive but often hidden. Ageism is highly tolerated, but it shouldn't be. It’s time to say yes to ageing, no to ageism.
For the first time we have rigorous evidence about the devastating impacts of ageism and it’s huge costs to individuals, our communities and our economies. Study after study in the WHO Report provide clear evidence that ageism shortens lives; leads to poorer physical health and mental health; impedes recovery; leads to greater financial insecurity, exacerbates social isolation and loneliness; and reduces quality of life.
Ageism also costs our economies billions. In Australia, a study demonstrated that a 5% increase in the labour force participation of older workers would lead to a $48billion lift in GDP – and these are 2012 figures!
Ageism in employment has real impacts. Prior to COVID-19, there were more people aged 55-64 years old on Jobseeker than any other age group, and they are on it for longer. Some older people never make it back into work because of the discrimination they face at recruitment, others are frozen out of work because of ageist attitudes and workplaces.
Surveys by the Australian Human Resources Institute found that almost a third of respondents indicate their organisation has an age above which they are reluctant to recruit workers, and that age is 50. What an enormous waste of a talent pool! The reality is that most of us will experience longer, healthier lives than we would have at any time in history. If we want or need to work longer, we can contribute to a more highly skilled and experienced workforce, if only employers will drop their prejudices and allow us.
Ageism affects how we feel about ourselves as we get older. Many of us have internalised negative attitudes and fears about getting older and this time of life. Many of us have also internalised the rhetoric of older people being a burden on society, rather than focussing on the many benefits that flow from living and working longer.
No-one wants to be thought of as a burden. Framing older people in this way creates, for example, the conditions for the callousness, neglect and abuse we have seen in aged care. It feeds the depersonalising and diminishing of older people and their rights.
EveryAGE Counts aims to change all that. We are proud that the WHO has highlighted EveryAGE Counts as an example of as promising, research-based campaign to end ageism against older people.
We are not born ageist but we learn it early. It is in our language, our jokes, our institutions, our media and in ourselves. Ageism is learned and so it can be unlearned.
In Australia, we’re leading the world in learning how to campaign to end ageism, but we’ve only scratched the surface of changing social attitudes. With awareness, education, building intergenerational connections and advocacy we can challenge ageism and dismantle its impacts. Join us at everyagecounts.org.au and take the pledge to build an Australia without ageism.