A leading social welfare group will form a coalition to tackle ageism in what is being described as Australia’s biggest campaign to reframe attitudes towards growing older.
The Benevolent Society announced its campaign EveryAGE Counts on Thursday, as it launched a report that revealed concerning findings about growing older.
Executive director of the Benevolent Society Kirsty Nowlan said the research, The Drivers of Ageism, showed a mismatch between perceptions about ageing and reality.
“Views about ageing have a preponderance of negativity,” she said.
“People believe that ageing is a process of inevitable decline. The reality is a lot of the fear about ageing is based on a set of myths.
“Ninety per cent of people over 65 rate their health as excellent. More than 90 per cent of older people live independently, not in a nursing home.
“There is a real dissonance between people’s beliefs and what is actually happening.”
The research found that ageist attitudes were most prevalent around employment with one-third of respondents saying employers should be able to force older workers into reduced roles, one-quarter saying bosses would get better value out of training younger workers than older ones and one-fifth saying younger people should get priority over older people for promotion.
Eighteen per cent of respondents accused people who don’t retire at 65 of stealing jobs from younger people.
Alan Williams, 62, is attempting to return to the workforce after nine years of unemployment. After his wife was diagnosed with dementia, he became her full-time carer. He said that now he is willing to return to the workforce, his age appears to be a hindrance.
“You don’t get told officially but I’ve gone for 22 jobs this month and only got two interviews,” he said. “A few others had strict instructions saying that I currently have to be employed”
Mr Williams had previously been self-employed, running a variety of successful businesses. He said that even applying for jobs at his age can be difficult, with changing technology and changing attitudes.
“I rang a recruiter and said that I was putting in an online application and that I couldn’t find anywhere to put in a cover letter. She said she never reads them anyway.
“Coming back in, technology has changed. I expected that but a lot of the terminology is different too.”
Mr Williams said many of his friends had been in a similar situation and had simply given up on looking for work at their age.
“Friends in my age group, over 50, mostly are just doing volunteering work. They applied for several jobs but just didn’t get any.
“I would like a bit more in my superannuation though. I’m happy to work until I’m 75.
“I’m even starting to look overseas so I can get back into the workforce. At least then I’m actually back in the workforce.”
The research, which involved 1400 participants of varying ages, exposed a number of other negative stereotypes about ageing.
However, it did not state an age at which a person becomes “old”.
Almost 60 per cent of respondents believed mental and physical deterioration were inevitable, 43 per cent associated old age with death and 39 per cent said growing older meant losing independence.
Negative attitudes about the cost associated with ageing also came out in the survey with 19 per cent of respondents saying the amount of money spent on healthcare for the elderly should be rationed.
People aged over 65 who took part in the survey had experienced ageism with 57 per cent saying they’d been told a joke about older people, 38 per cent reporting being patronised and 37 per cent being ignored.
Almost a third of older people said they had been turned down for a job due to their age and 14 per cent said they had been turned down for a promotion.
There were some positive perceptions with 73 per cent of people saying older people had a lot to offer younger people, 65 per cent reporting older people have a strong work ethic and 65 per cent believing older people are responsible.
Almost 80 per cent of respondents agreed that ageism was an important issue.
Australians aged 65 and over comprise about 15 per cent of the population, a proportion set to increase to 23 per cent by 2064, according to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
Dr Nowlan said the campaign would work with governments and the private sector over the next 10 to 15 years to address ageism, a form of discrimination that is likely to affect everyone.
As part of the advocacy, the coalition will lobby for a federal minister to represent older Australians.
“We view this as a long-term campaign of the same scope and scale as the NDIS,” she said.
“This campaign is a 10- to 15-year project aimed at shifting views about growing older.
“We have been given this gift of longer, healthier life and we really ought to make the most of it.”