Media portrayals of later life are overwhelmingly negative, according to a new report by the Centre for Ageing Better, with print media, entertainment and advertising promoting damaging stereotypes of older people.
The print media tends to represent the age shift in the population as a crisis or a societal burden, according to the report, with the ageing population described using metaphors like “grey tsunami”, “demographic cliff” and “demographic timebomb”. Often, older people are depicted as “villains” unfairly consuming too many of society’s resources. This language also contributes to the process of ‘othering’ and can stoke intergenerational conflict.
In advertising, older people are either portrayed as frail and vulnerable, or in an exaggeratedly positive light which puts pressure on individuals to achieve idealised lives.
Advertising aimed at younger adults often relies on negative stereotypes and takes a mocking tone. Magazines targeting older people, meanwhile, tend to emphasise images of successful ageing, glamorising a lifestyle that is financially out of reach for many.
These attitudes, the study found, can affect some groups more, with women and people from black and minority ethnic groups facing a “double jeopardy” of discrimination as they get older.
The Centre for Ageing Better, which published the report, is calling for a “fundamental culture shift” to overturn what it calls an “ingrained culture” of “pity and dislike” towards older people.
Anna Dixon, Chief Executive at the Centre for Ageing Better, said:
“Ageism, like any other form of prejudice, has a profound effect on our self-esteem, our wellbeing and the way we experience day-to-day life. The responses to the COVID-19 crisis have thrown up serious questions about the way we think and talk about older people, and highlighted what an impact those attitudes can have.
“Our new research shows that in spite of the progress we’ve made towards challenging discrimination in Britain, we still have an ingrained culture of pity, dislike and disassociation towards older people.
“Ageism is deeply damaging, and yet all too often it isn’t taken as seriously as other forms of prejudice or discrimination. Britain is long overdue a fundamental culture shift to overturn these attitudes, and the media needs to reflect the diverse experiences of people in later life.”