Age is just a number

PHOTO: Unsplash / @John Moeses

AGEISM is the most accepted form of prejudice, according to a new report by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).

Published on September 14, 2021, ‘What’s age got to do with it? A snapshot of ageism across the Australian Lifespan’ explores the institutional, inter-personal, and self-directed levels of ageism that exist in Australian society.

Ageism refers to stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination directed towards people on the basis of their age.

The World Health Organization (WHO) believes it occurs when age is used to divide people in an unjust or disadvantaged way.

This can be in the form of thoughts, feelings, or actions.  

AHRC’s report found 90 per cent of Australian respondents consider ageism exists and 83 per cent perceive it as a problem.

Dominant age-based stereotypes across Australian generations. PHOTO: Australian Human Rights Commission/ ‘What’s age got to do with it?’ report

Age Discrimination Commissioner, Kay Patterson AO who led the AHRC report, credits a lack of research on ageism has resulted in societal acceptance.

“Ageism is arguably the least understood form of discriminatory prejudice, with evidence suggesting it is more pervasive and socially accepted than sexism or racism,” Dr Patterson said.

The report urges Australians to engage in conversation about ageism.

“It is incumbent on each of us to discuss these issues and do our bit to bring ageism into mainstream conversation…” Dr Patterson said.    

Commissioner Patterson encourages Australians to challenge generational stereotypes by disassociating capability levels with age.  

She reinforces this point, by referencing the age-old narrative of blaming forgetfulness on seniority.  

“Instead of thinking you have forgotten something because you are old, you should perceive the act of forgetting as a consequence of having more to remember,” she said

“We should be teaching positivity 

The problem is not age, it is ageism.”

The report has put forth three suggestions to counter ageism, that received the most attention from survey respondents. 

Survey respondents were asked to choose their top three of 12 possible measures to counter ageism. PHOTO: Australian Human Rights Commission/ ‘What’s age got to do with it?’ report

Whilst age discrimination exists in Australian society, the report has found that age as a concept is changing.

Instead of age determining life trajectory, economic and social circumstances are more influential on the life-standing of an individual.    

A young adult in the 18-39 age group said in the report that life circumstances are not driven by age, but by “the types of things you give and take at different ages.”

A middle-aged respondent in the 40-69 age group also holds the same opinion, that societal roles are dependent on life circumstances.

“The roles I have may not be similar to the roles that other people of a similar age may have,” said the respondent. 

“Depending upon whether you are financially independent or on struggle street, whether you are enjoying your work, or it is a chore.

There are people similar to my age that have already retired and playing golf… to me age is just a number.”

United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet thinks ageism needs to be addressed as a significant human rights violation.

“Ageism harms everyone – old and young,” she said. 

“But often it is widespread and accepted in our attitudes and in policies, laws, and institutions.” 

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Tia Haralabakos

Tia Haralabakos is a Media & Communications student at Monash University specialising in Journalism and human rights. She is interested in the multi-faceted landscape of digital media, particularly addressing challenges to online reporting like diversity and content moderation. Tia’s journalistic interests include human rights and social affairs.

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