For the very first time, the United Nations is talking about ageism. The report released last week highlighted the problems related to age-based stereotypes.

Ageism has been seeping into many sectors for a long time, from healthcare to the workplace. The surging social isolation, economic cost and poor health caused due to this growing problem made the UN address this long-existing issue.

But before all that; What is ageism? How is it affecting the economy? Is ageism only old adults’ problem or an issue that concerns people of every age group?

What is Ageism?

Ageism is prejudice or discrimination against individuals or groups on basis of their age. Similar to racism and sexism’s typecasting a person for a single characteristic; ageism is holding negative stereotype against people of different ages solely because of the peer group they belong to.

It includes all the prejudice against; both bigotry faced by youths in politics, prejudice about people above the age of 65 in workplaces, is a form of ageism.

Ageism is a very deep-rooted socio-cultural form of discrimination. It have got so common that despite encountering it on every day basis, we never feel anything wrong. Age-based discrimination in workplace, politics, and healthcare is widening the gap between the elderly and the youngsters along with costing the economies a hefty amount.

Employment: Effect of Ageism

Most of the major economies of the world are ageing. Every minute if not less one person is turning 65 and stepping into their retirement.

Workplace biasing against the people, approaching or past their age of retirement is not uncommon, but quite explicit. Companies don’t want to employ old adults. But what is less known about the consequences of this workplace discrimination is the economic costs caused by such behaviours.

According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)’s report  ‘The Economic Impact of Age Discrimination’; discrimination against the elderly cost the US’s economy about $850 billion in GDP in 2018 alone.

Data mentioned in the WHO report about Australia suggests that if only 5% more people above the age of 55 were employed then the national economy of the country will be benefited positively by AUD 48 billion.

UN’s Higher Commissioner of Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet says; “Ageism harms everyone – old and young. But often, it is so widespread and accepted – in our attitudes and in policies, laws and institutions – that we do not even recognize its detrimental effect on our dignity and rights.”

Not Only the Elderly’s Problem

The most common misconception about ageism is that its consequences are only limited to the elderly population. The reason being society’s obsession with youth; open any magazine, watch any TV show, you will see most of the world revolving around the youth population.

While coining the term in 1969, Robert N. Butler, a renowned gerontologist, described it as the discriminatory attitude towards the old. He stated in his book, Why Survive? “ageism allows the younger generations to see older people as different than themselves; thus, they subtly cease to identify with their elders as human beings”`

But ageism is just one part of the coin; the young population is also discriminated against because of their age; this often referred to as Youngism.

Young people also have to face social prejudice because of their age group at workplaces; the most common presumption is that young people don’t know what is hard work.

Furthermore, the minimum wage for the young worker is fairly low than the adult counterpart, even if they are working at the same levels.

How Pandemic Highlighted Ageism Problem?

The global pandemic has called attention to the ageist attitude towards the elderly. The people working in aged-care centres were trying to raise alarm to the under-staff and under-resourced conditions of the care home for years.

The pre-existing apathetic attitude towards the elderly who are past their retirement and in need of assistance was highlighted as the deadly virus brought lethal health risks to the older adults.

The biasing and discriminatory frame of mind can also be clearly seen in the vaccine trials; as older adults have been sweepingly kept out of the randomized clinical trials.

According to a systematic review by the World Health Organisation from 149 studies found that in 85% of the cases, a persons age was the deciding factor of whether they will receive and certain medical treatment or not.

The hope of an Anti-Ageist Future

According to the UN’s report, every second person in the world has an ageist attitude. To combat ageism, working at the grass-root level is important; enhancing empathy towards the elderly at the educational level could be the first step towards the change.

Ageing is inevitable and is that one place that everyone will have in common. The world needs policies that are good for people of all ages. The current policies need to be made more age-neutral, one that is supportive of the elderly as well as youngsters.