We all recognise those ‘older age’ stereotypes. We see them everywhere in the media and advertising: silly, forgetful older people unable to choose an insurance product or a healthy diet. What many people don’t realise is that these stereotypes can lead to serious discrimination.
Crucially, in the jobs’ market, but also in shops and restaurants and other services, older people are ignored or treated poorly. Stereotypes distort reality by generalising what might be the case in just a few.
The view that ‘all older people are forgetful’ is usually applied to everyone over 50. Because of this, perfectly capable people are denied jobs. Businesses and the economy are the losers, as well as the capable older people forced into poverty.
Do all people over 65 have major health problems?
Facts show that many in this age group are fit and active and contributing, and will remain so for years to come. This older age group also records higher levels of personal happiness.
To tackle these stereotypes and discrimination, we needed evidence. Our research, Fact or Fiction: Stereotypes of Older Australians provides this.
We found that too many Australians agree with wrong stereotypes about older people:
- 59 per cent of Australians feel that older people are more likely to be lonely or isolated
- 52 per cent feel that older people are more likely to be victims of crime
- 51 per cent feel older people are more likely to be forgetful
- 43 per cent feel older people don’t like being told what to do by someone younger.
Older Australians are vastly underrepresented in the media – 14.2 per cent of the population are aged 65 or over, but people of that age are featured in only 4.7 per cent of advertising content, most often as frail or weak, as victims, or in poor health.
So, what should happen?
The media should represent older people realistically, in all their diversity. Advertisers should aim at real older people, not imagined stereotyped versions of them.
The rest of us can challenge stereotypical remarks, start conversations about the contributions of older people, and point to the many older people who you know in jobs and volunteering. And think of yourself thirty years down the track – where would you like to be?