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New research finds ageism is the most accepted form of prejudice in Australia

Discrimination Age Discrimination

A new report released today by the Australian Human Rights Commission has found most Australians (90%) agree ageism exists in Australia, with 83% agreeing ageism is a problem and 65% saying it affects people of all ages.  

These findings were included in the Commission’s latest report, led by Age Discrimination Commissioner Dr Kay Patterson AO, What’s age got to do with it? A snapshot of ageism across the Australian lifespan

The report found ageism remains the most accepted form of prejudice in Australia, with 63% having experienced ageism in the last five years.

“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 research was undertaken by the Commission in 2020 and 2021 to explore what Australians think about age and ageism across the adult lifespan. It found ageism is experienced in different ways:

  • Young adults (18-39) are most likely to experience ageism as being condescended to or ignored, particularly at work.
  • Middle-aged people (40-61) are most likely to experience ageism as being turned down for a job.
  • Older people (62+) are more likely to experience ageism as being ‘helped’ without being asked.

It also shows the generations have much in common – but that there are ongoing tensions, which arise from stereotypes held by one generation about another. When these were questioned, most Australians rejected the stereotype, with:

  • 70% of Australians disagreeing that today’s older generation is leaving the world in a worse state than it was before, and
  • fewer than 20% agreeing any age group was a burden on their family or a burden on society.

“While we found common stereotypes about different age groups during our research, I was struck by the warmth expressed by participants towards members of age cohorts other than their own – and a real understanding of the life issues faced by those of other age groups,” Dr Patterson said.

The report uncovers what it means to be a certain age is also changing. Increased longevity, changing social mores, cultural factors and economic shifts mean people are realising key milestones at later ages – such as completing an education, buying a home or having children. 

Although many questioned whether these life stages should or could be accomplished at a specific age, many stereotypes persist about these sometimes outdated expectations of life stages, including:

  • Young adulthood is still seen as the time for gaining an education, starting a career, marrying or partnering, buying a house and starting a family.
  • Middle age continues to be regarded as the period of raising a family, progressing a career and strengthening financial security.
  • Older age is viewed as being about retiring from paid employment, volunteering, taking up hobbies, travelling, caring for grandchildren and increased dependence.

“In releasing our report, I call on everyone to think about ageism and how it affects you and those close to you,” Dr Patterson said.

“It is incumbent on each of us to discuss these issues and do our bit to bring ageism into mainstream conversations in our workplaces, living rooms, and with our friends.
  
“Every Australian must do what they can to challenge ageist attitudes in themselves and others, so together we can reduce ageism for Australians of all ages. Age is not the problem. Ageism is.”