”While older persons are often said to enjoy particular respect, the reality is that too many societies limit them, denying access to jobs, loans and basic services. The marginalization and devaluing of older persons takes a heavy toll...
“Ageism frequently intersects with other forms of discrimination based on gender, race, disability and other grounds, compounding and intensifying its effects...
“I condemn ageism in all its forms and call for measures to address this violation of human rights as we strive to improve societies for people of all ages. This demands changing the way older persons are portrayed and perceived, from being seen as a burden to being appreciated for the many positive contributions they make to our human family...
“Let us mark the International Day of Older Persons by forcefully rejecting all forms of ageism and working to enable older persons to realize their potential as we honour our pledge to build a life of dignity and human rights for all.”
That is a portion of the message from Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, marking the International Day of Older Persons that was held on Saturday, 1 October 2016. You can read his entire message at the U.N. Website.
John Beard is director of Ageing and Life Course at the World Health Organization (WHO), an agency of the United Nations. This is a short video from him about ageism that was released in connection with this week's Older Persons events:
In that video, Beard references a just-released analysis of a U.N. survey involving 83,000 people of all age groups in 67 countries. From the news release about it:
"'This analysis confirms that ageism is extremely common...' said John Beard...'Like sexism and racism, changing social norms is possible. It is time to stop defining people by their age. It will result in more prosperous, equitable and healthier societies.'”
The news release references the growing body of research showing that people who hold negative attitudes toward being old live on average 7.5 fewer years than people with positive attitudes, something I first wrote about nearly four years ago.
Alana Officer, Coordinator of Ageing and Life Course at WHO, mentions some of the many ways ageism is made manifest:
"'These include depicting older people as frail, dependent, and out of touch in the media, or through discriminatory practices such as health-care rationing by age, or institutional policies such as mandatory retirement at a certain age.'
“Age limits applied to policies such as retirement age for example, do not recognize the range of capacities of the older person – and assume that all older persons are the same.
“This deeply entrenched institutionalised ageism may be used to discriminate against older adults when allocating health resources or when collecting data that influence health policies.”
In September, USC Annenberg released their study of how people age 60 and older were portrayed in the 100 top grossing films of 2015. Among the findings, they report, “In film, seniors are underrepresented, mischaracterized and demeaned by ageist language.” Further:
• Out of 57 films that featured a leading or supporting senior character, 30 featured ageist comments — that’s more than half of the films. Quotes included characters being referred to as “a relic,” “a frail old woman” and “a senile old man.”
• Only 29.1 percent of on-screen leading or supporting characters aged 60 or older engaged with technology, whereas 84 percent of aging Americans report that they use the internet weekly.
• Of the senior characters that died on screen, 79.2 percent of deaths were a result of physical violence — such as being shot, stabbed or crushed. This does not accurately reflect causes of death for the aging population, which are heart disease and other chronic illnesses.
Television portrayal of elders is just as infrequent and disrespectful, and the repetition of these negative portrayals ensures to many people that the stereotypes reflect reality.
If you have been reading this blog for more than a little while, none of this information is new to you; I rant on about ageism quite frequently. What surprises and depresses me each time – and turns up in almost all discussions of ageism elsewhere too – is how many old people themselves deny that ageism matters or even exists.
We all know that the United Nations, moreso even that individual countries, moves at a snail's pace but I am heartened that the organization is working toward equality for elders.
It is particularly important that John Beard of WHO notes that our progress in combating sexism and racism makes such changes in ageism possible too. Forward movement is agonizingly slow but we know it can happen.
So I will keep banging away about ageism and age discrimination because it is the right thing to do and because, too, if I don't continue to insist, it will change me in ways I won't like.