One simple idea to disrupt ageism.

by Catherine Rickwood

Getting older is potentially powerful. Nearly 8 million Australians are over 50 years of age – that’s one-third of the country’s population! Yet how we perceive getting older and how older people are treated influences employment opportunities, lifestyle choices, health management, and marketing campaigns. Here’s one simple way that we can all challenge and disrupt age stereotypes.

Age stereotypes are both frustrating and challenging. Frustrating because they’re limiting and assume all older people are the same. Challenging because there’s an opportunity for us all to think, work, be, and do life differently to the way in which age stereotypes dictate. We have the opportunity to change what it means to become older and to retire.

When I meet people and talk to them about my work they’re genuinely interested. When asked what I think about retirement I suggest that the definition of the word is flawed. When asked what I think are important factors to healthy ageing I offer my view. Invariably I suggest that they read my blog AND I say that our own attitudes and beliefs about getting older matter.

Disrupting ageism is the responsibility of everyone. If younger people (old people in training) choose to limit their recruitment practices and marketing and business development strategies to those under 50 there’s a chance they’ll suffer the consequences when they’re 50. After all, they’ll be 50 one day too. If people over 50 choose to think, speak, and act in stereotypical ‘old people’ ways, then we’re creating our own limited futures.

The Australian Human Rights Commission report on stereotypes of older Australians found that younger Australians (under 30 years of age) are generally negative about ageing. Similarly, many Australians (of all ages) agree with the stereotype of older Australians as lonely or isolated, forgetful and more likely to be victims of crime. These negative attitudes, poor media portrayal, combined with social media depicting older people as vulnerable and as victims fuels the stereotypical image of an older person as being frail, old, forgetful, useless, vulnerable, slow, and lonely.

Yet, for those over 50, we know the truth is something far different to how younger Australians may perceive us. For some of us over 50 we also have a strong belief that we can age positively and happily. And whilst we know that those over 50 are a diverse group of people, we do know that many of us are active, engaged individuals.

Busting the myth of what it is to be older is possible. One way we can do this is through connection. For younger people and older people to meet and be open to the possibility of learning from each other as we see in this short video. The result? Younger people (between 19-33) in this experiment shifted their view of an old person being in their 40’s or 50’s to an old person being in their 80’s, 90’s, or 100’s.

My own experience of meeting and working with younger people is extremely positive. I enjoy the conversation, I’m challenged, and I’m energised by the enthusiasm, drive, and motivation of youth.  I’ve provided mentorship and guidance and I’ve been guided – particularly in the area of social media. My plan is to remain connected with younger people for the rest of my life. If I can do this then maybe, just maybe, the attitudes and beliefs about ageing will be shifted – even if that’s only with one person. If those of us who believe getting older can be great and we all make a meaningful connection with just one younger person then perhaps we’ll create a movement of change. After all as Margaret Mead, an environmental activist, once famously said…

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

What’s your experience of being with younger people? Is it something you enjoy or do you feel the generational gap? Equally importantly, what stereotypes do you hold about younger people?


About the Author

Catherine Rickwood

An experienced researcher and business executive, Catherine's work is informed by academic knowledge and evidence to deliver practical actions with measurable outcomes. These combined skills create a powerful and useful ability to delve deep on issues, ask incisive questions, think laterally, and bring knowledge and insights to individuals, a team, and an organisation keen to engage with, and include the over 50's as a valuable part of their business strategy.

Catherine Rickwood is solutions-focussed, working with innovative organisations keen to improve customer and employee insights and empathy to increase their success in new markets, build loyalty, and increase innovation. She does this using a co-design process that engages employees and key stakeholders to create collaborative solutions. Contact Catherine to discover how her services can support your organisation to harness the changing demographic reality.

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