14 November 2023

What is Ageism?

10 min read

What is ageism?

Ageism is a type of discrimination that involves prejudice against people based on their age. Similar to racism and sexism, ageism involves holding negative stereotypes about people of different ages.

Ageism affects everyone, both young and old. Age discrimination can be seen in a wide variety of settings and situations including the workplace and in healthcare. Ageism is a very destructive type of discrimination. It is hard to fight because it has become part of everyday life in Australia.

Ageism against older people is present in how we talk about ageing and what we think it means to be older. Too often, we portray older people as out of touch, frail, forgetful or worthless.

What are the signs and examples of ageism?

Ageism can manifest in various forms and contexts and can range from subtle actions to blatant acts of discrimination. Signs of ageism can manifest in various ways and they may be subtle or overt. Some of the common signs of ageism include:

Employment Discrimination:
  • Failing to hire, promote, or retain older workers because of their age.
  • Setting age-related job requirements or preferences in job advertisements.
  • Passing over experienced older employees for training opportunities or leadership positions.
  • Assuming that older individuals are technologically inept or unable to adapt to new technologies.
  • Believing that younger employees lack experience, maturity, or work ethic.


Healthcare Bias:
  • Assuming that certain health issues are just a natural part of aging without conducting thorough medical assessments.
  • Not providing older patients with the same treatment options or medical interventions that would be offered to younger patients.


Media and Advertising:
  • Portraying older individuals in a limited or stereotypical manner in the media, often focusing on their health issues or portraying them as burdens.
  • Using only young models or celebrities in advertisements, excluding older people.
  • Age-related jokes or humor: Making jokes at the expense of people of a certain age group, which can perpetuate stereotypes and belittle individuals.


Elderly Stereotypes:
  • Making jokes or derogatory comments about memory loss, physical frailty, or cognitive decline associated with aging.
  • Treating older individuals as if they are helpless or incapable.


Disregarding Contributions:
  • Ignoring the valuable experience, knowledge and contributions of older individuals in various fields. 
  • Dismissing their ideas or expertise based on age.


Isolation and Social Exclusion:
  • Excluding older individuals from social events or activities due to assumptions about their interests and abilities.
  • Isolating or segregating different age groups in social settings.

Education and Training:
  • Failing to provide educational opportunities and training for older individuals seeking to acquire new skills or change careers.
  • Stereotyping older adults as unwilling or unable to learn.


Age-Related Language:
  • Using derogatory terms to describe people of a particular age group.
  • Referring to older individuals as "seniors," "elderly," or "old" in a negative or patronizing way.


Lack of Accessibility:
  • Failing to make public spaces, transportation and services accessible to people of all ages, particularly those with mobility challenges.


Financial Discrimination:
  • Charging older individuals higher insurance premiums or interest rates based solely on age.
  • Discriminating against older loan applicants or mortgage seekers.


Inadequate Elder Care:
  • Failing to provide adequate resources, services, or support for elderly populations, such as affordable housing, healthcare, or social services.
  • Addressing ageism involves challenging stereotypes, promoting inclusivity, and advocating for equitable treatment and opportunities for individuals of all ages. It's essential to create a society that values and respects people at every stage of life.

Patronising behaviour:
  • Treating individuals as if they are less competent or capable because of their age can be condescending and demeaning.


Disregard for personal preferences:
  • Making decisions for someone based on their age, rather than considering their individual preferences and needs.


Inadequate support for aging populations:
  • Failing to provide appropriate resources, services and support for the elderly, such as access to transportation, affordable housing, or healthcare.


Negative attitudes about ageing:
  • Promoting a culture that fears or stigmatises ageing, rather than celebrating the wisdom and experience that comes with it.


Recognising and addressing ageism
  • Is important for creating a more inclusive and equitable society. It's essential to challenge stereotypes, promote intergenerational understanding, and advocate for fair treatment and opportunities for people of all ages.


How does ageism affect the elderly?

Like any form of prejudice and discrimination, ageism strongly impacts wellbeing. An analysis of the consequences of ageism on older peoples’ health, encompassing data from 45 countries and over 7 million participants, reported that ageism led to significantly worse health outcomes in 95.5% of the 422 studies examined.

The health consequences of ageism are far-reaching, and can include:

  • Physical and mental illness
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Reduced longevity
  • Poor quality of life and wellbeing
  • Risky health behaviours
  • Denied access to healthcare and treatments
  • Lack of work opportunities
  • Devalued lives of older people
  • Exclusion from health research


How can we address ageism?

Addressing ageism in Australia, as in any other country, requires a multi-faceted approach involving individuals, communities, organisations, and government initiatives. Here are several ways Australians can address ageism:

Education and Awareness:
  • Promote educational campaigns that raise awareness about ageism and its negative effects on individuals and society.
  • Incorporate discussions about ageism in school curricula to foster intergenerational understanding.


Challenging Stereotypes:
  • Encourage media outlets and advertisers to represent people of all ages positively and realistically.
  • Challenge and call out ageist language, stereotypes, or discriminatory practices when encountered.


Promote Positive Aging:
  • Celebrate older Australians' contributions and achievements in various fields, from the arts to business and community service.
  • Share stories of older individuals who have made a difference in society to inspire others.


Legislation and Policies:
  • Advocate for anti-ageism legislation and policies that protect the rights and opportunities of older adults.
  • Support age-friendly policies that address issues like housing, transportation, healthcare, and employment.


Inter-generational Programs:
  • Promote programs that bring together people of different ages to build understanding and mutual respect.
  • Encourage schools and community organizations to create opportunities for young and old to work and learn together.


Workplace Initiatives:
  • Encourage diversity and inclusion policies that address ageism in the workplace.
  • Provide age-sensitive training for employees and managers to prevent age discrimination.


Mental Health and Well-being:
  • Support mental health services that address the unique challenges faced by older individuals.
  • Promote age-friendly services and resources for those dealing with isolation, depression, or cognitive decline.


Community Engagement:
  • Encourage communities to host events and activities that cater to people of all ages.
  • Foster connections and relationships between older and younger residents.


Elder Abuse Prevention:
  • Promote elder abuse awareness and prevention efforts, as this is a significant concern for older Australians.
  • Support initiatives that aid those at risk of elder abuse.


Advocacy and Support:
  • Support organizations that work to combat ageism, promote the rights of older adults, and provide resources for those affected by age-related discrimination.
  • Encourage older Australians to speak out against ageism and share their experiences to raise awareness.


Research and Data Collection:
  • Support research on ageism to better understand its impact and identify effective strategies for addressing it.


Political Engagement:
  • Encourage elected officials and policymakers to prioritize issues related to aging and the rights of older adults in their decision-making.
  • Addressing ageism in Australia, like in any country, requires a collaborative effort across society. By raising awareness, changing attitudes, advocating for policy changes, and creating inclusive and intergenerational communities, Australians can work toward a society that values and respects people of all ages.


If you see ageism happening to an elderly person, the first step is to intervene and speak up. Address the situation calmly and respectfully, educating those involved about the harmful effects of ageism. Encourage empathy by reminding others to treat older individuals with the same respect and dignity they would expect for themselves. Be a supportive ally to the elderly person, offering your assistance and solidarity. Report incidents of ageism to relevant authorities or organisations when necessary to ensure the issue is properly addressed. By taking these actions, we can collectively work to eliminate ageism and promote a more inclusive and equitable society for people of all ages.

For further information on aged care, please visit