Mar 29, 2021

“Every second person” is ageist – what can we do to combat it?

Portrait old man

Every second person in the world is ageist and immediate action must be taken, says a new report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). 

The findings reveal that ageism is a global epidemic, causing reduced quality of life for older people and costing billions of dollars each year. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed ageism is “an insidious scourge on society,” and has drawn battle lines between the generations. 

“This report outlines the nature and scale of the problem, but also offers solutions in the form of evidence-based interventions to end ageism at all stages.”

The report found that ageism is present in nearly all aspects of modern society, including in the provision of health and social care, in the workplace, media and the legal system. Over 2020, a review of 149 studies showed that age determines who received certain medical treatments and procedures in 85% of those studies. 

The report showed that over our lives, ageism is most present in our younger and then older years. Younger people are more likely to be at a disadvantage within “employment, health, housing and politics, where younger people’s voices are often denied or dismissed” and once we enter our later years, ageism presents itself in ways that can cause wide-reaching consequences for our physical and mental health and wellbeing. 

Ageism against older people is associated with poor physical health, increases in social isolation and loneliness, causing mental health decline, increased financial insecurity, low quality of life, and can cause premature death. According to WHO, it’s estimated that 6.3 million cases of depression globally can be attributed to ageism.

“The pandemic has put into stark relief the vulnerabilities of older people, especially those most marginalised, who often face overlapping discrimination and barriers – because they are poor, live with disabilities, are women living alone, or belong to minority groups,” said Natalia Kanem, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund. 

In the battle against ageism, the report recommends all countries and stakeholders take evidence-based approaches to introduce policies and laws that address ageism. The introduction of educational tools to increase generational empathy and fight against misconceptions and stereotypes of certain age groups, and intergenerational activities to reduce prejudice can help decrease rates of societal ageism. 

The report also encouraged improved data collection and research to move to change how people think, feel and act towards age and ageing. 

At the end of 2020, the UN declared 2021-2030 the Decade of Healthy Ageing. This report, and the global recommendations made within it, are a step in the right direction to make ageing an easier phase of life, both socially and environmentally. 

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