Ageism is a form of discrimination against individuals based on their age. It is an pervasive problem that affects people of all ages, but especially older adults. Ageism can lead to poorer health outcomes, social isolation, earlier deaths and costs the economy several billions. In this article, we will look at what ageism is, why it is a collective problem that concerns us all and how we can work together to address ageism.

What is ageism?

Ageism is a type of discrimination against individuals based on their age. It can take different forms, such as negative stereotyping, age discrimination at work and age-based harassment. While ageism can target individuals of any age, it is often directed at older adults.

Ageism may have serious consequences for older adults, such as poorer health outcomes, social isolation and an earlier onset of death. Having negative attitudes towards ageing can also affect younger generations by perpetuating stereotypes and stigmas around ageing.

Ageism leads to poorer health

Ageism may have significant effects on the physical and mental health of older people. Negative beliefs around ageing can lead to stress, which can contribute to chronic health problems such as heart disease and stroke. Ageism may also result in social isolation, which is a major risk factor for depression, anxiety and cognitive decline.

Studies have shown that older adults affected by ageism are more likely to have poorer health outcomes and an earlier age of death. For example, a World Health Organisation (WHO) study found that ageism is a significant risk factor for mortality, independent of other health risk factors.

Age discrimination in the workplace

Age discrimination in the workplace is one of the most common forms of age discrimination. Mature adults often face age-related stereotypes and discrimination in recruitment, promotion and training. This may make it harder for older adults to find and retain employment, which can have significant financial and social consequences.

Employers can counter age discrimination by implementing policies that promote diversity and inclusion, such as age-diverse hiring practices and intergenerational mentoring opportunities. Employers can also provide training to managers and staff on age-related stereotyping and tackling ageism in the workplace.

Ashton Applewhite speaks to the idea that true inclusion requires more than simply inviting people of all ages into existing spaces and structures. Instead, it requires the creation of new spaces and structures that are specifically designed to be welcoming and inclusive for people of all ages.

In the context of ageism, this means challenging and changing societal attitudes and structures that marginalize and discriminate against older adults. It means recognizing the value and contributions of older adults to society, and creating spaces and structures that allow them to fully participate and engage in all aspects of society.

By making a new space, a better space for everyone, we can create a society that is truly inclusive and welcoming to people of all ages. This requires intentional action and a commitment to dismantling ageist attitudes and structures, but the end result is a more vibrant, diverse, and equitable society for all.

WHO’s call to action

World Health Organisation has recognised ageism as a major public health problem and called for swift action to implement effective strategies against ageism. These strategies should include public education campaigns to challenge negative stereotypes, policies to combat ageism in the workplace and intergenerational programmes to promote understanding and respect between different age groups.

In the past, many famous people have spoken out against age discrimination and advocated for the rights and dignity of older adults. For example, activist and actress Lily Tomlin once said, “I always wondered why someone doesn’t do something about it. Then I realised I was someone.” This quote encourages people to take action against age discrimination and other forms of discrimination, and be the change they want to see in the world.

Another famous quote comes from former US President Jimmy Carter, who said, “We are not becoming a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different desires, different hopes, different dreams.” This quote highlights the importance of diversity and inclusion in society, and the value of people of all ages and backgrounds.

Maya Angelou said, “We let our ignorance rule over us and make us think we can survive alone, only in groups, only in races, even only in genders.” This quote highlights the importance of recognising the interconnectedness of all people and the negative impact ageism can have on society as a whole.

Honouring all ages

Ageism can be addressed by honouring all ages. Instead of seeing ageing as a negative experience, society as a whole should embrace it as a natural part of life. All stages of life have their own unique qualities and contributions to society. Young people bring energy and innovation, while older people bring experience and wisdom.

Honouring all ages means treating people with dignity and respect, regardless of their age. It means not making assumptions about someone’s abilities or worth based on their age. It means valuing the contributions of people of all ages and giving everyone equal opportunities to participate in society.

Cultural implications

Ageism also carries important cultural implications. Many cultures around the world have a strong tradition of respect and regard for the elderly. In these cultures, older people are seen as wise and valuable members of society. They are often consulted for their advice and opinions, and their contributions to the community are highly valued.

In contrast, some other cultures have a more negative view of ageing. In these cultures, older people are often marginalised and excluded from society. They may be seen as a burden or a drain on resources, rather than a valuable resource.

Changing cultural perceptions of ageing and older people requires a concerted effort. Eliminating misconceptions and negative attitudes and promoting positive representations of ageing in the media and popular culture is necessary. It means valuing the contributions of older people and involving them in all aspects of society.

Studies in Europe and the rest of the world

Studies in Europe and the rest of the world have shown the benefits of embracing ageing. In countries where older people are valued and included in society, there is greater social cohesion, less social isolation and loneliness, and better overall health outcomes.

In Japan, for example, the elderly are highly respected and seen as a valuable part of society. As a result, the country has one of the highest rates of longevity and health in the world. Similarly, in many European countries, older people are seen as valuable members of society and are involved in all aspects of community life.

In short, Ageism is a collective problem that affects us all in the long term. It leads to poorer health, social isolation, earlier death and costs the economy billions. To tackle ageism, we need to implement effective strategies against ageism, fight negative stereotypes and attitudes, and honour all ages.

By valuing the contributions of people of all ages and involving them in all aspects of society, we can create a better, more inclusive world for all.

As writer and activist Anne Lamott once said, “We contain all the ages we have ever been.” Let us honour and embrace each stage of life and build a better future for all.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article on the impact of age discrimination,” but this of course applies to all “isms,”, including age discrimination, racism, sexism, illiteracy and others. It is important to highlight and address these forms of discrimination to create a more inclusive and equitable society for all. Your willingness to engage with these matters is greatly appreciated and will help all of us to create a more equitable world.

With care Esther