Ageism is a Global Challenge

According to a recent United Nations Report ageism is a global challenge. 

Every second person in the world is believed to hold ageist attitudes. This leads to poorer physical and mental health and reduced quality of life for older persons as well as costing societies billions of dollars each year.

If you are over fifty and reading this, the concept will not be news to you. In established Western societies being ignored or being unable to find a job are often the reality for people over fifty, particularly if you are a woman. 

My colleague, Liz Byrski, wrote a really thoughtful book called Getting on: some thoughts on women and ageing. She writes: “once past fifty, older women begin to sense that they have become invisible. From visual displays in the mall to the pages of magazines and television screens at the heart of our home, young women with perfect skin, bouncy, enhanced breasts, pouting lips, long straight hair and perfect teeth gaze down on us.”

But the UN report on ageism also highlights the challenges for more vulnerable people during the COVID 19.  “The pandemic has put into stark relief the vulnerabilities of older people, especially the most marginalised, who often face overlapping discrimination and barriers.”   This refers to those who live in poverty, those with disabilities, who live alone or belong to minority groups. Women from a refugee background who live in refugee camps are particularly hard hit.

Ageism costs our societies billions of dollars. The discrimination means people of the older generation are not getting the care they require physically and mentally.  And as Liz writes the ageing population is traditionally viewed as a problem – a drain on financial resources, health, housing and community services. She argues that living longer and living well are the triumphs of a civilised society. We must do more to include people as they age.

Estimates in Australia suggest that if 5% more of people aged 55 or older were employed there would be a positive impact of AUD $48 billion on the national economy annually.

“Ageism harms everyone – old and young. But often it is so widespread and accepted that will do not recognise its detrimental effect on our dignity and rights”.

Micelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human rights

We need to fight ageism head-on as a deep-rooted human rights violation.