The growth in the number of older Australians provides significant benefits and opportunities for Australia. For example, older Australians are a large and growing consumer market for an extensive range of products and services. Research also shows that an increase of 5% in paid employment of Australians over the age of 55 would result in a $48 billion impact on the national economy, every year.*1
To achieve these benefits we need to remove the barriers that prevent many older Australians from reaching their full potential in workplaces and the community.
One of these barriers is discriminatory attitudes and behaviours, which often stem from negative stereotypes or misconceptions about older people. These stereotypes ignore individual differences and the rich diversity of older Australians. More destructive stereotypes foster a view that older Australians are all the same – that they are unable to learn or change, they complain a lot, are likely to be sick, victims of crime and are an economic burden on society. The reality of course is very different.
At the Australian Human Rights Commission, we are working to combat fundamental attitudes and stereotypes that underpin age discrimination. The project Age Positive: Promoting Positive and Diverse Portrayals of Older Australians, has been funded by the Federal Government following recommendations by the Advisory Panel on the Economic Potential of Senior Australians. For the first stage of this project, the Commission engaged Urbis to conduct research on age discrimination, age stereotyping and ageism.
Urbis’ research has yielded some challenging results, revealing the prevalence of negative stereotypes within media and advertising portrayals of older Australians. Of equal concern is the underrepresentation of older people in the media. Significantly, the stereotypes and invisibility have influenced perceptions of the younger generations, created negative employer attitudes and impacted negatively the way older people view themselves.
My hope, in publishing this research, is to promote greater awareness of the damaging effects of negative stereotypes on the lives of older people and on the cohesiveness of our society. Following increased awareness, I hope that decision makers will look to change the way they present older Australians. There is much scope for constructive collaboration between media, advertisers and corporate Australia to present older Australians in a more accurate, balanced and diverse manner, to reflect more realistically their value, capability and experience. The benefits for our economy, for corporate Australia and for older Australians themselves, are clear.
The Hon Susan Ryan AO
Age Discrimination Commissioner
Australian Human Rights Commission