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Author: Age UK
Published on 03 March 2011 12:30 PM

Age UK research shows age discrimination is rife in Europe

New research commissioned by Age UK reveals that age is the most widely experienced form of discrimination in Europe. Some 64 per cent of those interviewed in the UK and 44.4 per cent across Europe judge age discrimination as a serious problem.

The results of the new study come as the UK Government launches a consultation on banning ageism from the provision of goods, and services and highlights the need for comprehensive legislation to remove age discrimination.

Michelle Mitchell, Age UK Charity Director, said:

'The research shows the disturbing levels of age discrimination in the UK and Europe. The UK Government must not loose anytime in pressing ahead with the ban on harmful age discrimination and ensure that older people have equal access to goods and services in the public and private sector.

'As well as strong laws we need a change in attitudes. It is time to stop treating older people as second class citizens. We need to look beyond someone’s age at their individual strengths and strive for a society which enables older people to remain active and independent.'

The European Social Survey (ESS) data analysed for Age UK by the University of Kent shows that heightened awareness of ageism as an issue has not diminished the more subtle forms of prejudice that people in later life face in the UK. The report points out that subtle prejudice continues to perpetuate the idea of older people as passive, needy and frail.

Consistent with these findings, older people in the UK are more likely to report experiencing lack of respect, such as being ignored and patronised, than being subjected to more blatant forms of discrimination, such as being insulted or abused. The report warns that subtler types of prejudice are as harmful as overt discrimination as they make it difficult for older people to feel empowered and able to assert their preferences and choices.

It reveals that in the UK we believe that youth ends early at 35 and old age starts at 59 as opposed to Greece where people stay young until 52 and are not thought of as old until their 68th birthday. British people were shown to be above the European average when it came to believing the importance of being unprejudiced towards other age groups but while older people in the UK were looked upon as more friendly than by the rest of the Europe the elderly were also thought of as being less competent. Everywhere people aged 70 or over were shown as being at the age least likely to be envied.

Employment is an area where age discrimination is a huge problem, despite recent legislation tackling the issue. The majority of those interviewed said they would find it easier to accept a suitably qualified 30 year old as a boss than a 70 year old with exactly the same qualifications. People over 50 felt extremely concerned that employers would always prefer to hire a person in their 20s rather than an older person. In the UK 49.7 per cent of those interviewed cited this as a problem.

Reflecting the ageing population more European families including those in the UK had relatives aged 70 or over than had children or grandchildren aged between 15 and 30. Of the families interviewed over 88 per cent were shown as feeling confident with each other and able to communicate well on all levels. While families mix well when it comes to friendships the majority tended to stay in their own age groups with 80 per cent of those aged between 15 and 24 having no friends in their 70s and over 70 percent aged 75 and over reporting they had no friends in their 30s.

The survey while showing that most of Europe appear to accept the concept of an ageing population shows that there is still a considerable way to go to before age discrimination is eliminated.

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opens link in new window Download our report 'A Snapshot of Ageism in Europe' here (PDF 161 MB)

Notes to Editors:

  1. The Age regulations 2006, now replaced by the Equality Act, have been a landmark in the battle to eradicate age discrimination from the workplace but are still to have their full impact, in particular with regards to fair recruitment practices.
  2. There are 1.4 million people in the UK who are 85 or over. By 2051 this figure will have to risen to 5 million and there is a need to learn how to value older people and appreciate their talents.
  3. The number of workers aged 50 and over in long term unemployment (over 12 months) has risen to 164,000 an annual increase of 21.9 per cent (LMS Feb, 2011). Recent figures show that the rates for men have increased more than for women. There is already legislation in place that outlaws age discrimination in employment but there is still a need to make sure this is actually the case.
  4. The study using data from the European Social Survey (ESS) , involves nearly 55,000 people from all different age groups and compares data from 28 countries throughout Europe.
  5. The figures in the report ‘A Snapshot of Ageism in the UK and across Europe’ was analysed by Professor Dominic Adams and his team at the European Research Group on Attitudes to Age at the University of Kent. A report of the full data analysis will be published by Age UK in the Spring 2011 and will be available on the website at www.ageuk.org.uk

Age UK

For media enquiries relating to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland please contact the appropriate national office: Age Scotland on 0131 668 8055, Age Cymru on 029 2043 1562 and Age NI on 028 9024 5729.

Age UK is the new force combining Age Concern and Help the Aged, dedicated to improving later life.

We provide free information, advice and support to over five million people; commercial products and services to over one million customers; and research and campaign on the issues that matter to people in later life. Our work focuses on five key areas: money matters, health and well being, home and care, work and training and leisure and lifestyle. We work with our national partners, Age Scotland, Age Cymru and Age NI (together the Age UK Family), our local Age UK partners in England and local Age Concerns. We also work internationally for people in later life as a member of the DEC and with our sister charity Help Age International.

Age UK is a charitable company limited by guarantee and registered in England (registered charity number 1128267 and company number 6825798). Age Concern England and Help the Aged (both registered charities), and their trading and other associated companies merged on the 1st April 2009. Together they have formed the Age UK Group (“we”). Charitable services are offered through Age UK and commercial products are offered by the Charity’s trading companies, which donate their net profits to Age UK (the Charity).

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