Almost 70 per cent of respondents to a national survey agreed that ageism is a “serious problem in Australia”.
Conducted by EveryAGE Counts – a national advocacy coalition of organisations and individuals – the survey sought the views of more than 1,000 people aged 50-plus.
The results show prejudice against older people is “rampant”, said EveryAGE Counts co-chair and spokesperson Richard Tickner.
“Ageism is not some hollow trendy word, and there was hard evidence that stereotyping against older people was damaging to the health and wellbeing of older Australians in many areas.”
Ageism Awareness Day was held last Saturday to remind all Australians of the discrimination directed to older Australians.
“It often starts when people in their earlier 50s are denied jobs or promotions,” said Mr Tickner. “Later on in life it is often a root cause and contributor to elder abuse and the mistreatment in aged care exposed by the aged care royal commission.”
All of us will at some point be impacted by ageism, said Mr Tickner, who is calling for intergenerational solidarity. “Older Australians, like the rest of the community, want to be treated as individuals and not treated differently simply because they are older.”
There are many false assumptions about older people that strip them of their agency and independence, said Mr Tickner. “Things like false assumptions like the inevitability of dementia as we age, lack of capacity of older people in the workplace when many want to and are capable of working, and false assumptions about needing help when many want to be self-reliant.”
He added: “Sure, some older people may need support, but the bottom line is that it is best to see older people as individuals and not make generalised assumptions or gratuitous, thoughtless offensive jokes about their age.”
As the Australian population ages, the issue of ageism is going to become critical to address said Mr Tickner. “And that is why EveryAGE Counts believes there is a need for a national public awareness and education campaign around ageism. The challenge is to change what is in people’s hearts and minds and educate people that age discrimination and exclusion harms us all and diminishes our society.”
Meanwhile, advocacy group Council of the Ageing Australia is calling on the federal government to adopt policies that address “the endemic of ageism”.
“There are some really positive, practical steps that our federal government could take today to push things in the right direction when it comes to addressing ageism,” said COTA Australia chief executive officer Patricia Sparrow.
“Reducing ageism in public policy, workplaces and community will unlock the experiences and talent of older people to benefit everyone.”
A COTA Australia survey found that 35 per cent of older Australians have experienced some form of age-related discrimination since turning 50 with around a quarter saying they’ve experienced employment-related discrimination.
“We know that one-in-three recruiters are open about their hesitancy in hiring an older person,” said Ms Sparrow. “The problem is clear, the action we need to take is clear, and the benefits for every generation of taking action are also clear.”
In order to create an age-diverse workforce, the employment system needs an overhaul, said Ms Sparrow. “Older Australians are a valuable resource – and by continuing to ignore ageism, we’re robbing future Australians of all the benefits that come from the intergenerational exchange and understanding in our broader communities. We need action.”