By Ellen Kocher
This article has been inspired by three separate, yet related current events and has four objectives. First, to honor the International Day of Older Persons on October 1st. Second, to raise awareness about the UN Decade of Healthy Ageing kicking off this year. Third, to share key findings from the March, 2021 World Health Organization Global. Report on Ageism. Together, these events highlight the significance of older persons around the world — not only their health, but their rights and well-being. Finally, this article is intended to inspire personal action to increase your awareness and lessen your age bias.
According to the UN, over the next three decades, the number of older persons worldwide is projected to more than double. This demographic transition will have an impact on almost all aspects of society and depend heavily on health. The UN Decade of Healthy Ageing (2021-2030) is a global collaboration dedicated to improving the health and lives of older people. Focusing on the older population has become even more critical given the severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and combatting ageism is one of the primary targets for action.
Addressing ageism is critical to creating a world in which the dignity and equal rights of every human being are respected and protected. The World Health Organization Global Report on Ageism was published to shed light on the global state of ageism and provide solutions to shift ‘age’ assumptions and attitudes. The Report states that stereotyping prejudice and discrimination based on age are not new, but that COVID-19 has amplified these harmful attitudes and now is an ideal time to shift.
Ageism refers to how we think (stereotypes), feel (prejudice) and act (discrimination) towards others or ourselves according to age. It affects people of all ages and is everywhere. Half of the world’s population is ageist towards older people, and, in Europe, ageism is more prevalent against younger people than other age groups. In the workplace the AARP reports that 1 in every 5 workers in the US is over 55 and that 65% of workers say that they have experienced age-based discrimination at work. 58% of those surveyed believe that ageism became apparent starting at age 50.
Ageism overlaps and intensifies other forms of bias, including disability, sexism, and racism. Ageism is, however, different from other “-isms” because they involve bias against relatively stable subpopulations, while ageism is bias against a moving target. Every person belongs to different a age group at different points in life, so everyone is susceptible to experiencing age bias. Ageism tends to be more accepted, yet, it has been shown to be more pervasive than sexism and racism across 28 countries in Europe.
On the wellbeing spectrum, for older people, ageism is associated with:
- earlier death
- poorer physical and mental health
- risky health behaviors
- lower quality of life
- social isolation and loneliness
- poverty and financial insecurity.
We all have a role to play in preventing and responding to ageism. Self-reflection is the key to self-awareness. It allows us to evaluate and process what we’ve experienced and to examine our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Ask yourself the following question: Think of the five people you choose to spend the most time with – not including family. What is the largest age gap between you?
What did you observe? Most people notice that their trusted five displays minimal diversity. Their inner circle includes people with ages and backgrounds similar to their own.
Ageism starts in childhood — think “Old Maid” playing cards and the elderly witches and villains in children’s books and films — and is reinforced over time through our actions and words.
Look at the following statements and ask yourself: What is ageist about the statement? What is the intent of the statement? How can it be reworded so that it is not ageist?
“You look good for [your age]”
“You’ll understand when you’re older”
“You’re young at heart”
“You’re still… [dancing, driving, going to the gym, wearing a particular style]”
Geezer, gramps, old fart, dirty old man, little old lady, old bag, biddy, old fogey
At a global level, the Report on Ageism outlines how to combat ageism through policy and law, educational activities, and intergenerational contact interventions. These recommendations aim to help stakeholders reduce ageism through political commitment with the engagement of different sectors and actors. However, we all have a role to play in challenging and eliminating ageism and by coming together, we can improve collaboration and communication, starting with ourselves.
It’s time to say no to ageism. Start with noticing ageism in your life. Maybe beginning this October?
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