Psychology professor suggests the root cause of ageism

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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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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca is a voracious reader who loves words. You'll often find him spending time in galleries, writing, designing, painting, drawing, or photographing and documenting street art. He has a publishing and graphic design background and loves movies and music, but then, who doesn’t?



Total Comments: 36
  1. 0

    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……

    • 0

      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.

  2. 0

    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

  3. 0

    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”…

    • 0

      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.

  4. 0

    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.”

  5. 0

    I saw the younger woman. That’s cos your only as young as the woman you feel !! 🙂 😉

  6. 0

    racism first then ageism next is a potent 1-2 knockout punch

    • 0

      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!

  7. 0

    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

  8. 0

    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

    • 0

      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”

  9. 0

    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!!!

  10. 0

    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.

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