Older Australians on ageism

An overwhelming number of older Australians experience ageism in their daily lives, says the results of the YourLifeChoices Friday Flash Poll Ageism: How it works and how it affects the afflicted.

On this International Day of Older Persons, and on any other day, ageism is an increasing problem that requires addressing now more than ever.

Globally, there are around 700 million people over the age of 60 and, by 2050, that number is expected to increase to 2 billion. The United Nations Principles for Older Persons, adopted in 1991, rightfully focuses on various initiatives to try and address problems, such as ageism, that will increase as the population ages.

While racism and sexism are continual hot button topics, ageism, so far, has been largely off the radar.

Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism and arguably the world’s most prominent anti-ageism activist, says that while ageism, racism and sexism may be a reflection of fear, ageism is unique in that this fear targets our future selves.

“No prejudice is rational,” says Ms Applewhite. “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.

“When you recognise it in yourself and then realise you can come together with others to effect social change, it radicalises you. Stanford University sociologist Doug McAdam calls it cognitive liberation.

“The next step is collective action. The rewards are real. I hear regularly from people who have begun to reject age shame that they feel instantly relieved and empowered.”

An article in Guardian Australia encapsulates one cause of ageism. It says that consumerism encourages people to fight ageing – a battle, deep down, we all know we can’t win – and a deep-seated fear of ageing is borne once we fully realise we can’t win that war.

The United Nations International Day for Older Persons (UNIDOP) celebrates the importance of promoting the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by older persons.

“Growing older does not diminish a person’s inherent dignity and fundamental rights,” states UNIDOP.

How do we better reintegrate older people into society? By recognising how we marginalise them.

The YourLifeChoices Friday Flash Poll Ageism: How it works and how it affects the afflicted, hoped to highlight the plight of older people who experience ageism on a daily basis.

Of the 1031 respondents, 67 per cent said they have experienced ageism. When asked what form it took, 29 per cent said ‘being ignored’, 21 per cent said ‘treated rudely’ and 13 per cent said ‘being insulted’.

That’s where ageism really cuts to the quick. It’s one thing to be treated rudely or insulted, but you can react to this treatment. Being ignored leaves you no recourse, no way to fight back. It’s highly likely that the ones being ignored were also the most vulnerable older people – those on the Age Pension who can’t afford to throw their weight, or their money, around.

It’s a common complaint about ageing: when you turn a certain age you become ‘invisible’. What dignity is afforded the ignored?

When asked where ageism is experienced in everyday life, the workplace was the worst with 16 per cent, with 23 per cent first experiencing ageism in the workplace in their 50s and 21 per cent in their 60s.

The workplace was closely followed by shopping with 14 per cent. Nine per cent said they experienced ageism on the phone with customer service agents and eight per cent said Government departments, such as Medicare and Centrelink, and while driving. Six per cent said in the street, or in restaurants or cafés and, most concerning, within the family.

If family is not a safe haven for older people, then what hope do they have outside the home?

It seems that ‘oldies’ stick together, with 85 per cent claiming they have never experienced ageism from someone their own age or older, 87 per cent saying they have never been guilty of being ageist and 67 per cent saying they fight ageism whenever they can.

As to the question of whether ageism is as bad as racism, sexism or religious persecution, 73 per cent said yes and almost eight in 10 said ageism should become illegal in the same way as racial vilification. And spare a thought for older women, too, who are more likely than men to experience the double-edged sword of ageism and sexism – 60 per cent of those who responded say that this is indeed the case.

Perhaps the most saddening result was the 78 per cent of older Australians who feel that respect for the older generation has declined.

While it would be foolish to promote ‘blanket veneration’ for all older people – after all, respect must be earned – it is this overall regard for preceding generations that needs to be reinstated, be it through addressing ageism or reinstituting basic social graces such as ‘respect your elders’.

Maybe the fact that older people have lived through all sorts of global and local turmoil and triumphs, in a period that is undoubtedly the fastest-moving, quickest-evolving era in history should be enough to warrant our respect.

However, maybe older people also need to consider that the generations that follow were or are under their tutelage in some form. Maybe there’s some ‘to and fro’ on this argument. Instead of pointing fingers, maybe there’s some blame to be accepted on both sides before a resolution can occur.

Regardless, the basic rights of older people can no longer be ignored. Simple things such as treating them equally and with dignity, listening when they are speaking, helping them when they need help and seeking their experience and wisdom, rather than treating them as ‘past it’ will go a long way. Most older people don’t want to be ‘elevated’, they just want to be heard and acknowledged and allowed to live with the same dignity and same rights we all enjoy.

YourLifeChoices’ members offered their take on ageism and how it affects them. Here’s what they had to say.

Your opinion: Is ageism as bad as racism and sexism?

The following comments are the various opinions of YourLifeChoices’ members and not that of the publisher. Some have been edited to keep to the point. If you would like to read all the comments made, head to our Ageism: How it works and how it affects the afflicted thread.

“You need a better understanding of what ageism is … we experience it our whole lives. My first incident was in my 30s and now in my 50s it gets worse and worse. This attitude that ageism only affects people over 65 is part of the problem. No matter how old you are there will always be people younger than you, from the young blonde at the bar who will ignore you if there’s a young guy also standing there, no matter how long she has kept you waiting, to older people who think younger people know nothing and are ruining this country, forgetting that they were the generation who either taught them or their grandchildren. Well done for starting a conversation about this though …” ~ Ted Wards

“I’ve never even thought about such things, I just get on with life. I would like to see ageism defined, I mean, how do young folk think when it comes to us ‘oldies’ getting special treatment like discounts on many levels? That might be ageism, hey?” ~ HDRider

“If retirees banded together and en masse refused to shop at any business which refused to hire them then there would never be a problem. Imagine what effect all of us no longer shopping at Woolworths would have on that business. It would go broke and the next day older workers would suddenly be offered jobs. Problem fixed.” ~ MICK

“There is some overwhelming evidence of older people who want to work but are being kicked out of the workforce. At Centrelink there is some overwhelming evidence of young people, not wanting to work, but being made to work. Forget about the young ones who don’t want to work, they will come looking for it when they are ready. Let the oldies undertake the work on a casual basis on top of the pension.” ~ Charlie

“If only the younger generation would draw knowledge from us we would continue to feel useful well into old age. Instead they keep reinventing things that we have already discovered and used. I spent a lifetime learning and acquiring knowledge. I could sell it if I was still young. Ageism is detrimental to our country’s progress and should be illegal.” ~ Oznorm

“The LNP is guilty of ageism when they stole pensioners’ entitlements through changes to the pensioner assets test. They knew how to get away with this theft by promising 2.5 million pensioners they would be better or no worse off, and then stealing from 330,000 claiming a budget emergency [and hanging] us old folks out to dry. Now in election mode, billions are on the table.” ~ Mad as hell

Do you experience ageism on a daily basis? Do you empathise with our members’ experiences? What can be done to fight ageism?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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