Ageism in Australia rife but what to do?

New research suggests ageism in Australia is pervasive but often hidden.
Camera IconNew research suggests ageism in Australia is pervasive but often hidden. Credit: AAP

Older Australians feel they are being increasingly discriminated against but less able to do anything about it.

Forty-five per cent of people over 50 have experienced ageism in the past year, according to research commissioned by national campaign EveryAGE Counts.

However, fewer than one in five (82 per cent) took action in response.

Of them, 27 per cent said it was because it was hard to prove, 24 per cent said they didn't know how to respond and 22 per cent weren't sure if it was really ageism they'd encountered.

Nine per cent didn't know their options.

The survey of 1417 respondents aimed at highlighting the gap between the prevalence of age discrimination and willingness to combat it also found 52 per cent of all Australians have recently witnessed ageism.

It's pervasive but often hidden, EveryAGE Counts campaign director Marlene Krasovitsky says.

"The only way we can end it is to bring it out of the shadows," she said.

"Often older Australians feel powerless when we encounter ageism. However, if we know what it looks like and name it, we can take constructive actions in response."

People often don't know how to approach difficult conversations about ageism, Dr Krasovitsky said.

Yet some approaches work better than others.

"It's tempting to argue that 'one day you'll be in my shoes' but ... research shows people find it hard to conceptualise their future selves," she said.

"It may actually be more persuasive to simply explain the impact the ageism had on you personally."

In the workplace, people may suspect they're missing out on opportunities to learn new tech or skills because of ageism but it can be difficult to prove.

Setting up an affinity group of older colleagues can be an effective way to compare experiences and identify patterns.

EveryAGE Counts co-chair and former federal minister Robert Tickner says he's encouraged by the growing awareness around ageism and its impacts.

"The proportion of the Australian population over 65 has doubled from eight per cent to 15 per cent over the past 50 years," he said.

"We can't keep discriminating against a fifth of our population. We need to update our attitudes, structures, and practices."

A report released last month by the Australian Human Rights Commission found ageism in Australia was undertaken and experienced in different ways.

For young adults aged 18-39 it was often about being condescended to or ignored; mostly at work.

Middle-aged Australians associated ageism mostly with being turned down for a job, while those 60 or older cited being "helped" without being asked.

Age Discrimination Commissioner Kay Patterson said ageism was arguably the least understood discriminatory prejudice, with evidence suggesting it was more socially accepted than sexism or racism.

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