Psychology professor suggests the root cause of ageism

Ageism is a real thing and is engrained in the human psyche: psychology professor.

Psychology professor suggests the root cause of ageism

Older Australians aren’t being paranoid when they complain about ageism in the workplace or in society in general – it’s a real thing – according to psychology professor Mike Nicholls of Flinders University.

Earlier this year, The Benevolent Society conducted a survey of 1005 Australians aged 50 and over to learn their views on ageism and age discrimination in the workplace.

Of those surveyed, 93 per cent were working: around half in full-time roles and the other half part time.

Perhaps surprisingly, 31 per cent of those surveyed said they had never experienced ageism and almost 40 per cent went as far as saying that they didn’t know what ageism was.

However, some of them said that they had experienced ageism in some form, be it age-related jokes or comments, or being treated as though they didn’t fully understand things.

Just on 35 per cent said they were excluded from training, from conversations or from conferences.

Those numbers relate specifically to those currently employed. Older people looking for work were more likely to report that they definitely experienced ageism while seeking employment.

According to the survey, while seeking employment, some were told:

  • no one can work here if they’re born before 1960
  • I was told I was too old to be employable
  • I’m not going to be hired because of my age
  • when are you going to retire?
  • not sure how you’d go working with younger people on the team
  • you’re too old and we don’t hire people with disabilities.

Around 37 per cent of those who experienced ageism said it adversely affected their confidence and 12 per cent gave up looking for work altogether.

“Unfortunately, this goes on every day in many workplaces. Even though it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of age, people are told to their faces: “You’re too old”. It is very distressing that many people feel they can’t fight it,” said The Benevolent Society’s Director Campaigns – Older Australians, Marlene Krasovitsky.

“Changing attitudes and behaviours takes time.”

Prof. Nicholls suggests the root cause for ageism stems from the dating game, saying that humans “automatically” prefer the company of people their own age rather than someone older.

“While our response is also affected by ‘high-level’ social conditioning, we still seem to have an in-built subconscious reaction to even an ambiguous face or figure,” explained Prof. Nicholls.

“This explains why young people tend to hang around with other young people, while older people associate with old and young.”

Prof. Nicholls used the image below as an example, explaining that as part of a study in the US most people who viewed this image identified a woman closer to their own age.


“The effect of this in society is that it makes it more difficult to encourage or even enforce inclusive behaviours, even in the workplace,” he said.

What do you see in this image? Have you experienced ageism in the workplace? Or do you encounter ageism in your community? Why not share your experience with our members?



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    12th Sep 2018
    Damn - I had to work hard to see the old woman in that picture... shows how young at heart I am...

    It may be that it's less about ageism than about the modern kind of 'manager' having no real idea about people......
    12th Sep 2018
    There are laws about everything but apparently when it comes to older citizens anything goes. This is but one example but blame ourselves for not uniting into a voting block and voting down governments with discriminatory policies. Then we'd be denied the vote.
    12th Sep 2018
    Never experienced ageism yet, didn't even know what it meant. I believe age to be a positive in many situations because of less attachment and more experience
    12th Sep 2018
    First you see a young woman then on focusing you see an old woman.
    Had a boss who used to say, " You can't teach an old dog new tricks"...
    12th Sep 2018
    That's completely wrong - I learned a variety of new things when I was over 55,
    many relating to new technologies and different ways of doing things,
    Also agree with Franky - as you get older you do have less attachments and you
    have had more experience of life and doing your job. I had to help a young 18 year old
    with spelling and grammar - hers was shocking.
    Mrs Hedgehog
    12th Sep 2018
    Just before I was retrenched one of the personnel officers announced in a very public place “We’ve got to get rid of these white haired old people, we need the place to be young and vibrant looking.”
    12th Sep 2018
    I saw the younger woman. That's cos your only as young as the woman you feel !! :-) ;-)
    12th Sep 2018
    racism first then ageism next is a potent 1-2 knockout punch
    12th Sep 2018
    Absolutely! While all the focus is usually on sex discrimination!

    About the "...almost 40 per cent went as far as saying that they didn’t know what ageism was" - they need to be retrenched at the earliest so that they wake up to the real world!
    12th Sep 2018
    I was told I was to old to find a job when I was 30 why pay me 10.00 an hour when you can get a 16 year old for 2.00
    Nan Norma
    12th Sep 2018
    tisme. I got that one at only 18.
    12th Sep 2018
    I had that a couple of years ago when budgets were cut. The new graduates are so much cheaper and I suppose that's fine but if the policy is to have people work to 67 then all the laws and rules need the age change from 65 to 67.
    12th Sep 2018
    I see a youngish woman with her head turned away from the viewer, and an old crone with a Hansel and Gretel inspired, witch-like nose and a jutting chin suggesting toothlessness. It took me a while to see the second image. So what? What does it mean or prove? it's like the glass half-full glass half-empty test. My solution is to get a glass half the size of the original, pour in the contents, and voila! the glass will be full. End of silly test. As for ageism, let's be brutally honest, many if not the majority of oldies do not look after themselves, they dress like housing commission tenants, the men don't cut their hair, too many oldies are fat slobs, women and men both hang their ugly feet out of sandals instead of covering up, they have bad teeth, and they eat rubbish. And they never cease complaining. So of course the optimistic young and middle aged prefer to stay away from this vulgar and depressing demographic. I'm 70 years old and I shun them as well. It's hard enough keeping up appearances. Ted F
    12th Sep 2018
    What enormous generalisations, not mention insults! I hope this post was a joke!
    How do housing commission tenants dress?
    Please provide factual statistical evidence re "fat slobs".
    Please provide factual statistical evidence of long hair in older males.
    Please provide factual statistical evidence of bad teeth and eating rubbish.
    Please provide factual statistical evidence of "continual complaining and vulgarity"
    12th Sep 2018
    I was 40. Working for an agency, and was sent to an interview with a new startup business who needed someone with my experience to set up their office and accounting programme. The owner told the agency that he would feel like he was giving his Mother orders! He hired a young dolly bird who crashed his whole system within a week if starting. If you really want to know what the younger generation think of us you should cop some of the posts on Facebook by members of a group calling themselves "war generation". According to some of their posts we are a financial drain on the country, and should all be put down!!!
    12th Sep 2018
    Well then, that's what will happen to them when they get very old. Just rewards!
    12th Sep 2018
    I was lucky to work fulltime to 77 with people of all nationalities, ages, and professions. Consider myself one of the lucky ones but know of many people half my age who are unable to find employment.
    12th Sep 2018
    Age Discrimination is alive and thriving!
    I went for and interview with Commonwealth Department and was interviewed by 3 25 to 30 year olds. One blatantly told me I was too old to handle/understand the technology.
    I subsequently worked in another area of that Dept and ended up teaching them how to use that technology more effectively and efficiently.

    The general comment given for not being successful in an application is "we consider you over qualified for the role". Being over qualified should be my problem not theirs!

    There was one occassion when I was unsuccessful and the relevant decision maker, who was a friend, told me that the younger ones were scared of me because of my breadth of skill and experience!
    12th Sep 2018
    You hit it on the head when you said that younger managers were scared of older workers because of their breath of skill and experience. The universities are churning out graduates with paper qualifications and negligible practical application. Business and government values these pieces of paper far greater than hands on practical experience and common sense. Even when older workers have a degree and years of practical experience, there is still discrimination because of this breath of skill and experience.
    12th Sep 2018
    I agree, Huskie, you hit the nail on the head with the comment "..the younger ones were scared of me because of my breadth of skill and experience!"
    This is happening because more and more younger people with less experience are being put into senior positions, who then don't want more experienced people under them who can question their poor decisions and lack of understanding.

    The professor should be retrenched asap, then he can find the real issue is as above.
    13th Sep 2018
    One of the biggest problems we have was the redundancy of most experienced and skilled public servants under Credlin's watch. They were replaced with young graduates who do as they are told. It's making a mess of policy decisions now.
    12th Sep 2018
    When I retired at 66 from the role of personal assistant at a prestigious city based company, the younger women bemoaned the fact that they wouldn’t have anyone to ask for help or advice when they needed it.
    Life experience
    12th Sep 2018
    Ageism is alive and well in nursing. I heard a young nurse say ‘she should retire’. The lady she was referring to was only early 50’s. I said to young nurse, but she can’t. She has to work as she can’t get a pension. She has to work to at least 67 to 70. And I said why do you think she should retire she’s a good worker. The young nurse said she was too old and had lost abilities and should retire.
    12th Sep 2018
    Whoa - I never saw the older woman only a younger one.
    After reading the comments had to go back and really scrutinize
    the pic. to see the old woman -so where does that put me I am over 70!
    12th Sep 2018
    Places you in category of being - Myopic~

    12th Sep 2018
    If you want to keep working in old age, I suggest you look after your body, always be well groomed and dress in style.

    Old people who are fat and dont take pride in the way they dress have only themselves to blame if they find it difficult to find work or face agesim at work
    12th Sep 2018
    I always dress/ed appropriately to the role applied for and am at the same weight that I was at age 30 (now 70). Have lost out to younger, and interviewed, ones who turned up in ripped jeans and T shirts for managerial jobs. It is not about presentation it is about perception! Grey hair and wrinkles equals no learning ability/adaptability or competence regardless of other factors!
    12th Sep 2018
    The comment you made applies to every job seeker, not just older ones. It is not so much being overweight but your overall presentation that counts. Dress to impress is the golden rule.
    12th Sep 2018
    i LEARNT p/C. & SMART PHONE IN MY 70s. If we R keen enough we can sometimes do these things but I notice I don't now retain things so well esp. if I haven't dealt with them regularly or for a while but feel I could still learn some things & remember especially if they were actions or things I constantly refer 2
    13th Sep 2018
    I learned to sail at age 59 - and I mean handling everything on a small sailing yacht. In terms of employment, although I had an excellent work record in my field, it took me 6 months to find a job at age 50 after the completion of a three year contract job.
    13th Sep 2018
    I learned to sail at about the same age, then learned to ride a motor bike at 65 and got a proper license.
    I already had a uni degree but just getting a few hours a week casual work was real hard. There was no place for me in the system
    13th Sep 2018
    I remember a movie "Soylent Green" all people aged 21 were invited to a party at midnight
    gas was injected into the party room and all of the bodies were fed into a machine which produced food for the younger generation called "Soylent Green" We are not that far advanced yet but we are getting there.
    13th Sep 2018
    I remember that movie and what it was about, but had forgotten all the gory details. WE thought it was great at the time gathered at a friends place who had the only colour tv.
    Several great movies about the same era.
    13th Sep 2018
    Age discrimination is not such a big deal when a person is working and they have all the answers to all the difficult questions, but as soon as that person retires they can find it difficult to get re employed.
    Possibly because they are too slow, burnt out, not good enough with computers, or they know too much and will upset the pecking order in office administration.
    17th Sep 2018
    It's hard to maintain your energy and enthusiasm when you have been caught up in half a dozen episodes of public service restructuring...
    3rd Dec 2019
    No one is older than the boss. The obsession to get younger "dynamic" people into the top positions? Plus this team crap... how many team leaders want to have an older more experienced... wouldn't fit in with the team lol. It's the look rather than the quality now... as buildings start to fall down, lumps of concrete fall from bridges people will just stare at their phone a bit harder lol.

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