Society still tolerates age discrimination

Silver Voices takes any form of discrimination very seriously; indeed, eliminating all forms of discrimination is one of our founding objectives. 


There is no doubt, however, that our society still tolerates indirect and direct age discrimination in a way that would not be acceptable for any other minority group.

We invited our members (all of them are over 60) to comment on whether they had experienced age discrimination and of what type. We had about 50 responses, almost all providing details of recent discrimination. 

Our results

The most common form of age discrimination identified was being ignored, patronised or talked down to (20%), followed by travel and car insurance (10%) and being physically jostled or abused (8%). Other interesting forms of age discrimination mentioned were related to mortgages, public transport, advertising and media bias, internet access and access to GPs and dentists. 

As ageism is so prevalent, when combined with another discrimination in a ‘double whammy’, the impact on the individual can be demoralising and humiliating. 20% of our respondents admitted to suffering double discrimination recently. By far the most common complaint was ageism combined with sexism, followed by ageism and discrimination on the grounds of disability. 

Some of our members had suffered the triple whammy of all three! 

Some of our respondents also pointed out that they had struggled against one (or two) forms of discrimination all their working lives, only to find their challenges overlaid with ageism in their later lives. We had some particularly poignant comments from older women who felt that no matter how important their contributions to society had been, they were now made to feel worthless by being ignored or  more patronised than older men.

An excellent vignette was drawn to our attention by a member. Dame Judi Dench had to call for a paramedic after a minor injury. A young paramedic asked her, “What’s our name? Have we got a carer?”. Dame Judi’s reply was apparently unprintable but included reference to her 8-week run at the Royal Court Theatre! 

It’s a long road but we must make a start

It will be a long task to change societal attitudes towards age, but we must make a start. 

Although the Equality Act bans age discrimination, it appears to have had little impact to date, except in some employment situations. 

We suggest that the big older age charities consider taking out high-profile test cases on clear ageist practices. Initially, cases combining ageism with another form of discrimination might have a good chance of success and open the door on case precedents. 

The power of unity

Additionally, all organisations campaigning on senior citizen issues should collaborate in a wider campaign on ageism: to include support from MPs in Parliament, investigations to establish how many enforcement actions against ageism have been taken forward and to seek media support for a series of articles and reports on the subject. Other groups have changed society’s attitude to minority rights and discrimination; we need to do the same on ageism. 

Dennis Reed is the Director of Silver Voices.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Independent Age.