COVID-19 has affected people of all ages, in different ways. But beyond the impacts of the virus itself, some of the narratives about different age groups have exposed a deep and older malady: ageism. Older people have been often seen as uniformly frail and vulnerable, while younger people have been portrayed as invincible, or as reckless and irresponsible. Stereotyping (how we think), prejudice (how we feel) and discrimination (how we act) based on age, are not new; COVID-19 has amplified these harmful attitudes.
This global report on ageism could not be timelier. Its main message is that we can and must prevent ageism and that even small shifts in how we think, feel and act towards age and ageing will reap benefits for individuals and societies.
This report shows that ageism is prevalent, ubiquitous and insidious because it goes largely unrecognised and unchallenged. Ageism has serious and far-reaching consequences for people’s health, well-being and human rights and costs society billions of dollars. Among older people, ageism is associated with poorer physical and mental health, increased social isolation and loneliness, greater financial insecurity and decreased quality of life and premature death. Ageism, in younger people has been less well explored in the literature but reported by younger people in a range of areas including employment, health and housing. Across the life course, ageism interacts with ableism, sexism and racism compounding disadvantage.
To achieve the long-lasting, vastly better development prospects that lie at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals, we must change the narrative around age and ageing. We must raise visibility of and pay closer attention to ageist attitudes and behaviors, adopt strategies to counter them, and create comprehensive policy responses that support every stage of life.
In 2016, the World Health Assembly called on the World Health Organization to lead a global campaign to combat ageism in collaboration with partners. The Global Report on Ageism, developed by WHO in collaboration with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the United Nations Population Fund, informs the campaign by providing the evidence on what works to prevent and respond to ageism.
The report suggests steps for all stakeholders – including governments, civil society organizations, academic and research institutions and business – to enforce new and existing policies and legislation, provide education and foster intergenerational contact for the benefits of people of all ages.
As countries seek to recover from the pandemic, people of all ages will continue to face different forms of ageism. Younger workers may be even less likely to get jobs. Older workers may become a target for workforce reduction. Triage in health care based solely on age will limit older people’s right to health. We will have to tackle ageism in and after this crisis if we are to secure the health, wellbeing and dignity of people everywhere. As countriesbuild back better from the pandemic and to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, all must adopt measures that combat ageism. Our driving vision is a world for all ages, one in which age-based stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination do not limit our opportunities, health, wellbeing and dignity. We invite you to use the evidence in this report to help this vision become a reality.