Perceptions of older people

Last week we received correspondence from Diane Keogh PhD, who is concerned about how older people are treated in society and portrayed in the media.

Ms Keogh wrote:

“Can you please give consideration to writing a story on why retirees are not a burden to society but simply older people who have significantly contributed to society and as such need to be respected for that, not considered a burden.

“I think this message that retirees are a burden and how are we going to pay for them is a very negative attitude and this is then reflected by the young in the way they consider retirees are a burden and complain that they will have to pay for this. We as retirees have already paid!”

As YourLifeChoices has continually reported, Australia is one of the meanest nations when it comes to supporting older people. According to the HelpAge International Global AgeWatch Index which ranks OECD spending on pensions as a percentage of GDP, “Australia has the lowest ranking (61) in its region for the income security domain, and the highest old age poverty rate in the region (35.5 per cent). It also has below average pension income coverage (83 per cent) and relative welfare rates (65 per cent) compared to other countries in this region.”

Australia spends an average of 3.5 per cent of its GDP on age-related spending against an OECD average of 7.8 per cent.

“I am not quite retired, but I am getting very tired of this group being painted this way. We have worked hard all our lives since early ages (some as early as 16) and retirement is not a burden for the community, it is our right,” writes Ms Keogh.

“I think we need to change the message on our group to one of respect and consideration, not what it is now!”

Ms Keogh makes some valid points. Many view retirees as entitled endless cash cows and age pensioners as an economic burden. Younger people especially seem to think that older people have coasted their way through life and are now living off the public purse.

“It is more about the fact that the message/question in the community that is so often posed/ portrayed in the media is how is Australia going to afford to pay for all these seniors who are going to be a financial burden on our society?” writes Ms Keogh.

“We have contributed all our lives and we should not be portrayed as ‘a burden on society’ just because there are a large number of seniors, a large proportion of whom will be self-funded anyhow.”

The notion that pensioners are suckling the taxpayers’ teat is not a new one. The Age Pension is seen by some as a handout, but in truth, it is a ‘reward for service’ – as stated when the legislation was passed by Parliament in 1908.

Some also view older people as past their use-by date and no longer able to meaningfully contribute to society.

This attitude is not only disrespectful, it is wrong. Besides, it’s just not about what older people are doing for society, but what they have already done.

YourLifeChoices member Old Man succinctly frames this attitude in the form of a funny ‘parable’.

“A very self-important uni student took it upon himself to explain to a senior citizen sitting next to him why it was impossible for the older generation to understand his generation.”

“‘You grew up in a different world, actually almost a primitive one’, he said in a voice loud enough for many nearby to hear. ‘We, the young people of today, grew up with television, jet planes, space travel, men walking on the moon, our spaceships have visited Mars, we have nuclear energy, electric and hydrogen cars, computers with light-speed processing, and …’ he paused to take another swig of beer … Which the senior citizen took advantage of to say, ‘You know, son, you’re right. We didn’t have those things when we were young … so we invented them. Now, you arrogant little fart, what are you doing for the next generation?’”

In her paper The ageing of the Australian population: triumph or disaster, Dr Katharine Betts, from the Swinburne University of Technology, analysed Australia’s ageing population growth and the presumed dependence on taxpaying workers to fund the pension. She found that even with no further growth in labour force participation rates, the dependency ratio is expected to decline from a current 53.6 per cent to about 44-46 per cent by 2061.

Even though the implications of older people being an economic burden are unfounded, the effect of such assumptions cuts deeply.

“It is about the community showing more respect for pensioners, not thinking of them as a burden on society and we cannot afford them, grumbling about them. It is degrading and disrespectful,” writes Ms Keogh.

“Other countries have more respect for older people, and if we are not given it in this country, we need to demand it!”

Today, we are seeking your attitudes about the perception of older Australians. Do you feel disrespected? Are you tired of being treated like a burden? Or are you happy with your lot?


And, of course, we welcome your opinion in the comments section below.

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.