Ageism is bad for your health

An older woman's pair of hands. A common ageist and patronising image of an older person.
A common ageist image. Why not her face?

We have to stop ageism at the older end of the age spectrum. Why? Because it’s killing us. The World Health Organization, says older people who hold negative views about their own ageing will live 7.5 years less than people with positive attitudes. So where do these negative views come from? Everywhere it seems. Ageism is bad for your health because ageing is framed as a negative experience. 

An article in the Sydney Morning Herald reports on this phenomenon. Ageist comments, such as “silly old duck” or “they are useless with technology” are socially accepted. Calling someone an “old dear” is not a term of endearment. Language matters because it is an expression of how we think. Ageism is yet to be properly recognised as damaging, unlike racism and sexism.  But we must be careful with the term ageism.

Ageism is always referred to as an older age issue. However, it is not. Anyone of any age can be subject to ageism. In Europe, the only region with data on all age groups, younger people report more age discrimination than other age groups. Philip Taylor has more to say on this in his UD2021 presentation. 

Ageism affects everyone. Children are brought up in a culture of age stereotypes that guide their behaviours towards people of different ages. They also learn how to perceive themselves at various stages of life. 

The WHO says that ageism is everywhere – in our institutions and relationships to ourselves. For example:

    • Policies that support healthcare rationing by age,
    • Practices that limit younger people’s opportunities to contribute to decision-making in the workplace
    • Patronising behaviour used between older and younger people
    • Self-limiting behaviour based on our own ideas of what a certain age can or cannot do. 

Is ageism really a problem?

This section from the WHO website on ageism says it is:

Two women sit on a bird nest swing depicting a positive image of older people.
Two older women on a bird nest swing. A more positive image.

Ageism can change how we view ourselves, erode solidarity between generations, devalue or limit our ability to benefit from what younger and older populations can contribute. It can impact our health, longevity and well-being while also having far-reaching economic consequences. Ageism is associated with earlier death (by 7.5 years), poorer physical and mental health, and slower recovery from disability in older age.

Ageism also increases risky health behaviors, such as eating an unhealthy diet, drinking excessively or smoking, and reduces our quality of life. In the United States, one in every seven dollars spent on health care every year for the eight most expensive conditions was due to ageism (US$ 63 billion in total).

Other posts on ageing and ageism include Are you Ageist? Probably. and Market segmentation by age – does it work?