It’s time to wake up to the very real harm of ageism
The impact of age-based prejudice has a life-changing impact on people across health services, employment, housing and in almost every aspect of society.
Our Chief Executive, Dr Carole Easton OBE, explains why in 2023 Ageing Better will go further than ever in its pursuit to eradicate the everyday scourge of ageism.
If you're an older person, you're less likely to receive surgical treatment for breast cancer. You're more likely to be prescribed anti-depressants than talking therapies for mental health problems. You may be rejected for a job simply because of your age (though this will not be admitted explicitly but implied through a coded rejection that you might have too much experience or not the right fit for the work environment). Only 1 in 10 homes will be suitable for you to live in should you develop any mobility issues.
Our new report, Ageism: What’s the harm?, shows the harm and impact of ageism across society in many different areas of our lives.
Like the prejudicial treatment of any other group of people in society, ageism is morally wrong and has no place in our, or any, society. It also means that our economy loses out from the skills and talents of older workers – people who want to work but find it harder to get work, simply because of stereotypical views on their ability based purely on their age.
And yet when it comes to ageism, where is the outrage that this discrimination still exists? To individuals who have experienced ageism first-hand and missed out as a result, they may resent the way they have been treated and not wish for anyone else to go through the same experience but feel disempowered to change the status quo.
Many people dismiss ageism; it’s harmless, it’s banter, it’s a source of humour, and see no reason to change the attitudes, behaviour, or policies the perpetuate its existence. But the evidence time and again shows the impact of ageist attitudes and practices cause significant damage to individuals, the economy and society.
Throughout this year and beyond we will be making a lot of noise about ageism. We will be highlighting the circumstances in which it occurs, and we will be offering support and guidance to help everyone play their role in ending ageism.
Ageism causes people to be excluded from society and its institutions. It can mean receiving unfair and unjust treatment from health, housing, employment and a range of other services. For individuals, ageism negatively impacts on mental health, physical health, financial wellbeing while in society at large, it widens social divisions and inequalities and damages our economy.
Such is the constant barrage of ageist messaging and behaviours, people internalise the sentiments of society and begin to limit their lives, activities, and aspirations accordingly.
One study has estimated that older individuals with more positive self-perceptions of ageing lived 7.5 years longer than those with less positive self-perceptions of ageing, even after accounting for age, gender, socioeconomic status, loneliness, and functional health. Try telling those with less positive self-perceptions of ageing and their families that ageism is harmless.
It's a paradox that for a prejudice that is discussed and understood so little, how widespread ageism is. A higher proportion of British adults have reported experiencing prejudice based on their age than on any other characteristic. A study of the use of language related to older age in web-based magazines and newspapers found that of 20 countries, the UK was the most ageist of all. In Ageing Better's research, 55% of all adults agreed that the UK is ageist. That proportion increased to almost 3 in 5 people aged 50-69. Some admission at least then that we do have a problem that needs resolving.
At Ageing Better, we want to move society towards an unequivocally agreed position that a.) ageism exists throughout our society, and b.) that it is an extremely harmful prejudice that needs eradicating. Then and only then can we move forward onto the solutions that will make that dream a reality.
That is why throughout this year and beyond we will be making a lot of noise about ageism. We will be highlighting the circumstances in which it occurs, and we will be offering support and guidance to help everyone play their role in ending ageism.
A change in approach across all aspects of society, and particularly those industries responsible for perpetuating ageist narratives, is sorely needed if we are to bring about a cultural shift and ensure that everyone can age well and fulfil their potential free from worry, stigma and discrimination. All of us are getting older – so we need to move away from a society that views ageing as a disease that needs a cure and instead find peace with the idea that ageing is just part of a lifelong natural process.
This will not be an easy transition and it won’t happen overnight. There are billion-pound industries that thrive on the power of the anti-ageing message. That is why we need you, why we need a new community of people of all ages to stand up and push back against ageism in all its insidious forms.