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That Age Old Question

How attitudes to ageing affect our health and wellbeing

Key points

Ageism harms the public’s health

• Negative attitudes about age can begin to form among children as young as six years old.

• These attitudes can be generated and reinforced in a number of ways, including:

– negatively framed headlines in the media;

– pressure from the beauty industry to use “anti-ageing” products;

– lack of regular contact between older and younger generations;

– age-based prejudice in the workplace.

As a result, ageist attitudes solidify as we grow older, into a set of stereotypes about older people and the ageing process which can be hard to unseat.

• Ageist attitudes harm older people as they lead to direct age-based discrimination – which can promote social exclusion, impact on mental health, and affect wider determinants of health like employment.

• Ageist attitudes also harm individuals who, as they grow older, begin to apply negative age stereotypes to themselves. Previous research has shown that those with more negative attitudes to ageing live on average 7.5 years less than those with more positive attitudes to ageing.

• There is now a growing body of research evidencing the real-life consequences that negative attitudes to ageing have on individual health outcomes such as memory loss, physical function, and even the risk of developing dementia. This provides a compelling case for a public health campaign and policy interventions aimed at deconstructing societal drivers of ageism.