Almost half of those in their 30s have used ageist language, as have 46 per cent of people aged 20-something. The Ageist Britain report, which surveyed 4,000 UK adults and analysed thousands of tweets and blog posts, found a further one in 30 people admitted to regularly discriminating against people aged over 50. More than one in 10 admitted not even knowing they were ageist, the SunLife study found.
The most used ageist phrases on social media are “old fart”, “little old lady”, “bitter old man” and “grumpy old woman”, researchers found.
Other common terms included “ladies/gentleman of a certain age” with “old hag” deemed to be the most offensive term.
Emma Twyning, from the Centre for Ageing Better, said: “These subtle but damaging messages are everywhere, from the TV shows we watch featuring ‘doddery but dear’ characters to the constant media reports about the ‘burden’ of our ageing population. The evidence suggests that this ageist narrative negatively impacts on our personal experiences of ageing and perhaps even our health and wellbeing.”
While more than half of all over-50s surveyed believe that ageist language like this is unintentional, most say it has made them feel less valued (68 per cent), unhappy (60 per cent) and alienated (52 per cent).
The report found that 40 per cent of British people over 50 regularly experience ageism, with one in three commonly experiencing it at work, one in 10 on public transport, and one in seven while shopping.
TV presenter Carol Vorderman, 58, who worked with the life insurance group SunLife on the research, said: “The report shows that we’re bombarded with phrases and behaviours which imply that life after 50 must be awful and that it’s downhill all the way.
“That just isn’t true, but this nonsensical school of thought will continue unless we raise the profile of the impact this type of language can have.
“Life after 50 is a great kind of different. It can be the best time of all: less stressful, less competitive, freer, happier.
“Life at any age is there to embrace, so it’s time we stopped using ageist language, intentional or not.”
Everyday ageism is increasingly of concern to mental health experts, with evidence that it can impact people’s mental health, hasten the onset of dementia and even shorten their life expectancy.
Comment by Louise Ansar, Centre for Ageing Better
We’re all likely to live longer than our parents and grandparents. This is wonderful – a huge opportunity for both individuals and society.
But the way we talk about growing old and the way we think about the ageing population is often based on lazy, outdated stereotypes.
Combine that ageism with age discrimination, and there’s a real risk this opportunity will slip through our fingers.
From stereotypically frail TV characters to “anti-ageing” face creams, subtle but damaging messages about ageing are everywhere.
Politicians often talk about the “burden” of social care or how to afford the pension bill. People in later life are reduced to “doddery but dear” stereotypes.
This negative framing of ageing can damage our sense of self-worth, limit our aspirations and change how we think and act.
Ageism is common in many workplaces, from jokes about having a “senior moment” to outright discrimination where people in their 40s and 50s find it difficult to get a job or further their careers.
Many of the products and services we use are designed and marketed at younger generations, with over-50s lumped together as if we all have the same wants and needs.
This can’t go on. Insurance company SunLife’s “Ageist Britain” report is an important wake-up call, highlighting the shameful ageism in our society and how we often don’t realise that our words and attitudes could be harmful.
But there are things we can do to change the situation.We must eliminate age discrimination in the workplace.
When we surveyed over-50s, we found that one in four had been put off applying for jobs that sound like they’re aimed at younger candidates. A third believed they had been turned down for a job because of their age, and a fifth think colleagues see them as less capable as they get older.
If people want to work in their 50s, 60s and beyond, we should support and enable them, rather than ignoring CVs that mention O levels rather than the newer GCSEs, or passing them over for training and development.
Another need is to rethink the language we use about ageing and older people.
At the Centre for Ageing Better, we’re launching research exploring how to change this. We want to find positive – or at least more realistic – ways to talk about ageing that see longer lives as something to be celebrated.
The results will help government, businesses and other organisations stop reaching for the cliches when talking about later life.
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