Reports that the UK’s oldest parents have had their baby removed from their care raises an important question: do we live in an ageist society?

Do we value and respect the older members of our community the same way we value and respect the younger members?

Our society no longer tolerates sexual, racial, or religious prejudice, but does it tolerate a degree of ageism?

Britain’s oldest parents, who had the baby last year when they were both in their early sixties, have been forced by social services to give up their child, with the couple’s advanced age being given as a key reason.

The couple had the child using a surrogate mother, donated egg, and the husband’s own sperm, but the procedure took place overseas because British services refused to help the couple due to their age.

Our ageing society

Why does our society so readily discredit the elderly, when we are regularly told that 50 is the new 30, and even 60 is the new 40?

The average life expectancy in Australia is 82 years; fifteen per cent of Australia’s population is aged 65 years and above.

We live in an ageing society – how we treat society’s older members is particularly pertinent right now.

A culture obsessed with youthfulness

Yet our culture remains obsessed with youth. Women, and increasingly men, spend small fortunes (this writer included) recolouring their grey hair. Plastic surgery is a boom industry. And billions is spent on anti-ageing creams every year.

There are huge pressures on the ageing to appear youthful.

Do we push older people out of the workforce too quickly?

The average retirement age in Australia is currently 55 years, but should we be encouraging a period of part-time work before retirement?

Remaining fully engaged with society for longer – whether through working, volunteering, helping with grandchildren, or the like – increases the likelihood older Australians will remain happier for longer.

Is the language we use to talk about older people discriminatory?

Even the world ‘old’ can have negative connotations, not to mention ‘frail’, ‘decrepit’, or ‘ancient’.

Perhaps we could begin to use words such as ‘mature’, ‘senior’, or even ‘dignified’, which have more positive associations.

Research shows Australians do harbour some ageist views

Dr Josh Healy and Dr Ruth Williams, from the University of Melbourne, presented 1,000 people aged between 18 and 70 years with a series of ageist statements, such as “Most older people don’t know when to make way for younger people” and “Many old people live in the past”. Participants were asked to rate each statement.

The research found that most Australians only agreed with a handful of the ageist statements. Only around 5 per cent agreed with the majority of the negative statements.

The most strongly held negative beliefs were around succession, in other words when it was perceived that older generations weren’t making way for younger people in society.

The research showed that Australians do hold some negative stereotypes about older people, which can unfortunately lead to discriminatory behaviour.

Ageing is an essential part of life. To live a long life is to have won life’s lottery. People should have a positive, respectful, and accommodating approach to ageing and the aged.

Our society no longer tolerates sexual, racial, or religious prejudice, and it shouldn’t tolerate ageism either.

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