The term ‘ageism’ was first coined 50 years ago to describe stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination of people based on their age or perceived age.
The impact of ageism and age discrimination is wide-ranging and underpins many of the issues and challenges faced by older people, leading to older people being treated unfairly and their rights not being upheld. Ageism also influences the decisions made by society, meaning that the services, support, facilities and opportunities that people need to help them to age well can be inadequate or difficult to access.
Yet despite a growing awareness and understanding of other forms of prejudice and discrimination – such as racism, sexism and homophobia – and the impact they have on individuals and society, ageism is widespread and is often still seen as being acceptable.
The extent of this was highlighted most recently in a report titled ‘Ageist Britain’,1 which found that over a third of British people admitted to discriminating against people because of their age. The report also highlighted that more than two-thirds of people over the age of 50 feel less valued due to the everyday ageism they experience.
Every day, we are bombarded by media and advertising that reinforces stereotypes about older people, with images and messages often focused on ill-health, decline and frailty. Growing older is often presented as something we should fear and something we should try to prevent from happening.
But ageism is not confined to the media and advertisers. Age discrimination in the workplace – which is founded on debunked myths about a lack of productivity, poorer health and an unwillingness to adapt to change amongst older people – often results in older people being prevented from remaining in or returning to work. We also know that people in their 50s are twice as likely to be made redundant than people in their 40s,2 despite the extensive skills, knowledge and experience they are likely to have.
Employing just half of the older people in the UK who want to work would increase GDP by up to £25bn a year, so ageism and age discrimination in the workplace is not only impacting upon individuals, but on our economy as well.
Older people can also face ageism when accessing health services, with research showing that negative attitudes towards older adults affect the availability and quality
of care3. Furthermore, research focused on Wales, undertaken by the Older People’s Commissioner, found that nearly 1 in 10 older people have been made to feel too old to receive health services.4
Decisions about access to health services and interventions – which can make a difference to people’s health, well-being and quality of life – should be based on clinical outcomes, not determined by assumptions that may be made based on an individual’s chronological age.
These examples only scratch the surface in terms of the scale of ageism and its impact upon older people. A growing body of research indicates that ageism and age discrimination can also have a direct impact upon older people’s physical and mental health, their recovery from illness and levels of social exclusion. One study also found that people with a positive view of ageing can live up to 7.5 years longer than those who hold negative views of growing older.5
It’s therefore essential that we raise awareness about the kinds of ageism faced by older people every single day and the impact this can have on their lives, as well as challenging ageism and age discrimination at every opportunity.
That’s why the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales has launched her #EverydayAgeism campaign, which you can support in a number of ways:
• Share #EverydayAgeism campaign messages and images via social media
• Share examples of ageism and age discrimination with the Commissioner so they can be called out and challenged
• Make a pledge stating how you will play your part in challenging and tackling ageism
• Get in touch with other ideas for how we can work together to tackle ageism
You can also find out more about the campaign, and access a range of useful information and resources, at the Commissioner’s #EverydayAgeism campaign hub – www.olderpeoplewales.com/everydayageism
Alongside the campaign, the Commissioner is also launching a new information guide for older people – Taking Action Against Ageism – and will be delivering a series of training sessions for older people throughout Wales, to empower them to both recognise and challenge ageism.
By working together, we have an opportunity to change attitudes by demonstrating how widespread ageism is across society and challenging the myths and assumptions about older people that fuel ageism. So why not get involved and play your part in tackling #EverydayAgeism?
3 – https://www.bma.org.uk/-/media/files/pdfs/collective%20voice/policy%20research/public%20and%20population%20health/age-discrimination-and-the-perception-of-ageing.pdf
5 Levy, B., Slade, Martin D., Kasl, S. V., Kunkel, S. R., (2002), Longevity increased by positive self-perceptions of ageing, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, no.2, 261-270
A wide range of facts and figures related to ageism and age discrimination are available at the #EverydayAgeism resources hub: