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Age is not the problem, Ageism is: a Human Rights Report

Saturday, November 5th, 2022

Ageism can include how we think (stereotypes), how we feel (prejudice), and how we act (discrimination) towards people based on their age. Ageism may be more prevalent and socially accepted than sexism and racism, yet the least understood.

In 2020 and 2021, the national Human Rights Commission released a report on Australians’ experience of age and ageism [1]. The commission ran 11 focus group and surveyed 2440 individuals across the adult lifespan. The sample was a national representation of a mix of genders, cultural diversity, income and educational levels. The report also considered existing Australian and international research.

The report found that 90% of Australians agreed ageism exists, 83% agreed it is a problem, and 60% agreed that they may have judged someone due to their age. Over half the respondents agreed that making jokes about age is more socially acceptable than making jokes about things like race or gender.

Ageism affects Everyone

The survey found that 63% of participants had experienced ageism in the past five years. Younger adults were seen as attractive and still finding their way. They were most likely to experience ageism as being condescended to and ignored, particularly at work. Middle-aged people were perceived as being “in the prime of their lives”.  However, they were the most likely to be turned down for a job. Older adults were viewed as “nice” and likeable “onlookers” to life, who experienced prejudice as being “helped” without being asked.

The Intergenerational Divide is Fake News

Focus group participants had strong views about the media’s role in disseminating stereotypical portrayals of people. Many Australians (70%) rejected the stereotype that the older generation is leaving the world in a worse state than it was before.  Fewer than 20% of Australians rejected the idea that any age group was a burden.

The good news is that age-related prejudice is malleable. There is evidence that providing accurate information to challenge stereotypes can prompt people to reflect on and change biased thinking.[2]