Ten facts that show why ageism is so harmful
If you don’t think that ageism is a serious issue that urgently needs addressing, maybe these facts will make you think again.
Most people think that being ageist is just a bit of fun. But ageist attitudes actually cause significant harm, writes Dr Aideen Young, our Senior Evidence Manager.
Ageism is extremely prevalent in the UK – in fact, a higher proportion of British adults have reported experiencing prejudice based on their age (26%) than on any other characteristic. And a study of the use of language related to older age in web-based newspapers and magazines from 7,000 websites across 20 countries, found the UK to be the most ageist of all.
But at present, the issue is still not taken seriously enough and there is insufficient action being taken to eradicate it from society. Here are ten facts that show why ageism is no laughing matter but a prejudice that can cause serious harm to the individual. Our new report, What’s the harm? also details the wider societal impact of ageism.
1. Ageism can lead to older people not receiving the health care they need
Studies have found that age can have a significant impact on treatment for physical health conditions.
People aged 75 and older with breast and colorectal cancer, osteoarthritis of the knee and gallstones are less likely to receive surgical treatment for their condition than people aged 65 to 75.
2. This includes mental health treatment
Due to commonly held stereotypes about older people, signs of depression and anxiety are often overlooked and assumed to be a result of getting older. As a result, older people with mental health problems are more likely to be prescribed anti-depressants and less likely to be referred for talking therapies compared to younger adults.
3. The ageism we experience from society and others results in us feeling negatively about ourselves and this can be harmful to health
Older individuals who are positive about their own ageing can live 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.
4. Internalising ageist attitudes impacts our own behaviours
People who feel negatively about ageing are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviours such as smoking and drinking and to have poor eating and exercise habits.
They are even less inclined to engage with health check-ups such as cholesterol tests or prostate exams and to seek medical help for various ailments.
5. Ageism means older people do not see themselves represented in media and advertising
In spite of their large and growing numbers, and the considerable spending power that many older people have, they are under-represented in advertising. Just 29% of TV advertisements feature characters aged 50 or older. And the situation is getting worse: representation of older people on screen actually declined during the pandemic (from 34% to 23% with a decline from 16% to 7% in lead roles).
Ageism can also occur by omission – that is, a tendency to ignore the needs of an ageing population.
6. Age can be the sole difference between getting a job or remaining out-of-work
In a study, researchers applied for over 1,200 personal assistant and bar jobs as both an older and a younger worker, using CVs that were identical in every way apart from the date of birth. The 51-year-old applicant was invited to interview less than half as often as the 25-year-old.
Among workers who were made redundant during the pandemic, younger workers were twice as likely to be re-employed than workers aged 50 and over.
7. Older workers are frequently subject to stereotypes.
Contrary to all the evidence, older workers are commonly perceived as being less motivated, harder to train, slower at using technology, resistant to change, lacking the drive to progress and having less energy.
8. Those stereotypes mean older workers are often treated differently
Managers often believe that it is less cost effective to invest in training older employees so older workers are the least likely to receive on the job training.
9. Businesses that discriminate are harming themselves
Workers who feel discriminated against are less satisfied in their jobs, less committed and more likely to think about leaving their organisation.
Age discrimination – including not providing training to older workers – is not just a barrier to individuals continuing to develop during the latter decades of their careers, it also has the potential to impact productivity and the economy.
10. Homes, but not for all
Ageism can also occur by omission – that is, a tendency to ignore the needs of an ageing population. For example, we see a complete absence of plans to design and build age-friendly homes and communities. Fewer than one in ten homes have basic features that make them accessible for all ages and abilities.