Older people at an exercise class

Accidental ageists: quarter of the population discriminate or stereotype by age without realising

The Age Without Limits campaign releases new data ahead of first national Action Day which will see scores of events across the country including opening of Challenging Ageism: See and Be Seen exhibition in London.

See and Be Seen theme for Action Day challenges the narrow, negative and stereotypical portrayal of older people and ageing in society.

More than a quarter of people hold stereotypical views and may even discriminate on the basis of age without even realising it, according to new data from the Age Without Limits anti-ageism campaign. 

Out of almost 5,500 people who completed the campaign’s Are You Ageist? multiple-choice quiz within days of its launch, 28% of respondents submitted answers which indicated “accidentally ageist” views including outdated ideas and misconceptions about ageing. 

Accidentally ageist behaviour can include using phrases such as “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” or “you look good, for your age” which more than half of people (55%) admitted to doing sometimes. 

In contrast, two in five people (38%) demonstrate an ageing without limits mentality with a mostly positive attitude towards ageing by saying they would never use such phrases. 

The Centre for Ageing Better believes the way we talk about age influences the way we feel about the ageing process and the way we act towards people in different age groups. Ageist language can underpin age discrimination and prejudice as well as cause the recipient of such language to think and talk about their own ageing in a negative and limiting way. 

One in five people (22%) who took the quiz demonstrated ageist views overall showing that they hold a bleak perspective on ageing and what it means to get older. 

Examples of ageist views include that older workers should retire to make way for younger people, or that they tend to be less able to learn new skills and are less productive - views that are held by almost one in ten people (8%) who took the quiz   

The quiz, which forms part of the first-ever national anti-ageism campaign launched by the Centre for Ageing Better this year, has been designed to get people to reflect and consider if they might inadvertently hold negative views to age and ageing.

Evidence shows that a significant proportion of the population unwittingly holds ageist views shaped by the ageist attitudes embedded in our society. The Age Without Limits campaign is looking to challenge harmful ageism for the benefit of all in society as we age. 

The campaign’s first-ever annual Action Day will take place on Wednesday 20 March with scores of events organised by community groups taking place the length and breadth of the country. 

As part of this Action Day, the Centre for Ageing Better, supported by Age UK, is hosting a free four-day photography exhibition in London, which will challenge people’s perceptions of what ageing looks like and showcase the myriad ways we are ageing. 

In 2021, the Centre for Ageing Better launched the country’s first free image library showcasing the wide range of experiences of people over 50 in a bid to challenge negative and stereotypical views of older age. Images from the library will be included in the Challenging Ageism: See and Be Seen exhibition, where attendees will also get the opportunity to take the Are You Ageist? quiz for themselves. 

According to the charity, negative societal portrayals of ageing contribute to how people feel about getting older.  And older people with more negative self-perceptions of their own ageing are more likely to have depression and to have worse quality of life than those with more positive outlooks. 

One in seven people (14%) taking the Are You Ageist? quiz said they feel really down about getting older and dread their milestone birthdays. A further one in five (20%) will try to keep an upcoming milestone birthday quiet, only mentioning it to a few friends on the condition their age is not discussed. 

While nearly half of those (49%) who took the quiz are ageing without limits, the results suggest more needs to be done to challenge ageism for the benefit of us all as we grow older.   

Dr Carole Easton OBE, Chief Executive at the Centre for Ageing Better, said:

“With over half of people aged over 50 having experienced age discrimination in the last year, we hope our Action Day and the Challenging Ageism: See and Be Seen photography exhibition will help to challenge people’s perceptions of what ageing looks like. 

“The results from the quiz on the Age Without Limits campaign website show us first-hand that the country holds many negative views around ageing which is harmful for both individuals and society at large. 

“The images we see every day, the words we hear and say, matter. The repeated use of ageist images and ageist language in society reinforces and normalises ageist ideas. And ageist ideas are extremely harmful, they can impact the chances of older people finding work and the quality of healthcare they receive. 

“We’re calling for people to join the movement and stand up against the ageism that is implicit in the words and behaviours of so many of us. By encompassing a broader picture of ageing, rather than one depicted through images and phrases that solely portray later life as a time of frailty, decline and dependency, we can change the way we all think about ageing and help end ageism.” 

Mindy Meleyal, Participant in the Challenging Ageism: See and Be Seen Exhibition, said: 

“I wanted to be part of the project because it really matters. Representation matters, we need to see people in order to know what is possible. Younger people need to be looking forward to this. Older people need to see a truer reflection of themselves. 

“We don’t want to just see images of weak, crinkly old-people being miserable and vulnerable. We want to see people being vibrant, funny, experienced, skilled, out there living life to the full. That is equally  true of older people’s experience, and yet is much less frequently shown.” 

The free Challenging Ageism: See and Be Seen exhibition opens on Wednesday 20 March 2024 and runs until Saturday 23 March 2024 at Pop 1, The Now Building, next to Tottenham Court Road Station and opposite Soho Place Theatre. 

For more details on Action Day events happening in your area, visit here.

To take the quiz click here