Older people are frequently stereotyped as dependent, frail, out of touch, or a burden. What can we do to turn ageism around?
Ageist attitudes limit people’s freedom to live the lives they choose as they get older, and society misses out on the enormous human capacity of seniors.
EveryAGE Counts is an ambitious advocacy campaign tackling ageism head-on. Its vision is “a society where every person is valued, connected and respected regardless of age and functional health”.
The EveryAGE Counts campaign was initially conceived in 2017 by the Benevolent Society, which commissioned an extensive research program to inform the campaign strategy. National Seniors CEO John McCallum is part of the independent Coalition of experts and organisations that drive the campaign.
From birthday cards to anti-ageing advertisements and comedy sketches, stereotypical ideas about older people and the ageing process are common. Ageism even creeps into everyday compliments, such as
“She’s 80 years young” or
“You are only 65…oh, you’re not old”.
It seems being young is the default for what is good while being old is negative.
Journalist and author Caroline Baum observed that mantras such as “70 is the new 50” emphasise the priority of being vigorous and vital for as long as possible, but they offer no alternative scenarios for people with degenerative diseases, cognitive problems or experiencing loneliness.
Ageism can have serious effects on health and wellbeing. According to a recent 6-year UK study, experiencing ageism was associated with lower self-rated health, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, chronic lung disease, long-standing illness and feelings of depression.1
In the workplace, ageist attitudes and practices stop older people getting jobs and the subsequent economic benefit of working into later life. Ageism also denies society the benefits that flow economically and socially from the full participation of older people.
At the launch of the EveryAGE Counts campaign the Commonwealth Age Discrimination Commissioner Dr Kay Patterson said two-thirds of age discrimination complaints related to an experience in the workplace and that the latest survey by the Australian Human Resources Institute found almost a third of organisations are reluctant to recruit workers over 50.
Unlike other prejudices that are driven by fear of ‘the other’, ageism discriminates against our future self; the self that hopefully experiences decades of life and reaches old age.
One of the most prominent ant-ageism activists today, Ashton Applewhite, elaborates on the impact of ageism on the self and others in her TED talk, viewed more than 1.3 million times.
“No prejudice is rational,” she says.
“But with ageism, we have internalised it. We have been complicit in our own marginalisation and it will require active consciousness-raising to correct that, just as the women’s movement did”.
The campaign works to positively change thinking about ageing, to re-imagine getting older and to set the foundations for current and future generations to age well.
The campaign aims for an Australia where older people:
- are valued and their contribution is acknowledged
- have opportunities to learn, grow and live purposeful lives
- participate in work for as long as they want to
- are visible and represented in media in all their diversity
- are connected with their community and contact between generations is fostered
- have a voice and are part of all major policy decisions that affect them
- have equal access to goods and services and consumer protections when they need them
- get the right care and support which maintains their dignity and autonomy when they need it.
EveryAGE Counts is built on a variety of social change activities, including:
- advocacy, political engagement and public campaigning
- addressing barriers to equal participation or access by older to work opportunities or health care
- increasing the diversity and accuracy of representations of older people in media, arts and public discussion
- building a grassroots social movement so all Australians can be involved in the change they want to see
- further research and policy development to ensure further actions are evidence-based.
For more information, visit the EveryAGE counts website and view the three-minute video - An Australia without Ageism - narrated by Australian actor Bryan Brown.
You can also take the quiz Am I ageist?
 Jackson, S.E., Hackett, R., Steptoe, A. Associations between age discrimination and health and wellbeing: cross-sectional and prospective analysis of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing; Lancet Public Health 2019: 4:200-08