Tackling ageism through intergenerational connection - RSA Comment - RSA

Tackling ageism through intergenerational connection

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  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Work and employment

Britain is a country with a growing ageing population and yet has high levels of ageism. Charlotte Miller explains how to tackle ageism through integration rather than segregation.

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Britain is one of the most age-segregated countries in the world with more than half of us feeling that we live in an ageist nation. The Centre for Ageing Better’s report, Ageism: what’s the harm? details how 55% of adults agree the UK is ageist, highlighting the alarming impact ageist attitudes have on people, jobs, health, the economy and social cohesion.

It is well documented that our population is ageing. By 2030, 22% of people in the UK will be aged 65 and over. If we are to avoid more than one in five people being treated unfairly and discriminated against, we need to wake up to the urgent need for collective action.

Britain isn’t unique in our prejudice against people of different ages. The World Health Organization’s 2021 Global Report on Ageism found that: “Every second person in the world is believed to hold ageist attitudes – leading to poorer physical and mental health and reduced quality of life for older persons, costing societies billions each year.”

Through connecting with people from different generations, we can learn more about them, change attitudes and increase tolerance.

Co-founder, Intergenerational England Charlotte Miller

Intergenerational contact

One of the most effective anti-ageism strategies recommended by WHO is intergenerational contact. Intergenerational practices connect people across ages, sectors and communities, challenging stereotypes and fostering social interaction. They promote collaboration, shared learning, mutual respect and sustainable initiatives, bridging divides and promoting empowerment and belonging.

This transformative approach inspires resilient communities where individuals from different generations and sectors come together to learn, grow and thrive. Through connecting with people from different generations, we can learn more about them, change attitudes and increase tolerance.

Specifically, intergenerational thinking can help address the three main areas of ageism highlighted in the Ageism: what’s the harm? report.

1. Harm in the workplace

Ageism is rife in the workplace, with more than a third of 50-70-year-olds feeling at a disadvantage when applying for jobs due to their age, and one in five employers admitting that age discrimination occurs in their organisation 

Intergenerational workplace initiatives can help foster a culture of learning and mentorship to counter age-related biases. Initiatives can include:

  • Age inclusive policies and practices
  • Intergenerational collaboration in the workplace, including mentor schemes
  • Lifelong learning and skills development
  • Age-appropriate workplace health and safety
  • Minimum wage regulation
  • Skills training and apprenticeships
  • Targeted support for jobseekers of all ages

2. Harm in health and care

Age can have a bearing on your access to health and care, with ageism impacting people’s feelings of self-worth and even their health behaviours

It is possible to improve wellbeing and address health inequalities by creating:

  • Innovative models, such as intergenerational care homes or community-based programmes, to promote social engagement, support mental health and enhance the quality of life for all 
  • Interventions and campaigns that encourage intergenerational collaboration in promoting healthy lifestyles, disease prevention and access to healthcare services
  • Ways to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and best practices between social care and health professionals to inform policy and practice
  • Intergenerational programmes to reduce loneliness and improve wellbeing among all age groups and its detrimental effects on mental and physical health

3. Harm in homes and communities

Ageism by omission leads to a failure to design and build age-friendly homes and communities.

More than 4 million people aged 55 and above are actively seeking to move properties but cannot find new suitable homes. Only a small proportion of older people live in specialist accommodation.

Last year Cherilyn Mackrory, Conservative MP for Truro and Falmouth, called on the government to provide more options for elderly people looking to move. Poignantly she acknowledged: “Not all retired people want to live in retirement villages with other retired people only.” 

Many areas of the UK have already seen the benefits of intergenerational communities. Integrated intergenerational housing practices should take centre stage in future government housing strategies. These practices offer a solution for people across all age groups. 

To ensure housing affordability, access to suitable housing and sustainable development for people of all ages, housing policy reforms should take into account the needs of different age groups and promote intergenerational housing solutions – mixed housing and developments for all people of all ages and affordable housing initiatives.

Not all retired people want to live in retirement villages with other retired people only.

MP for Truro and Falmouth Cherilyn Mackrory

Changing attitudes

Tackling ageism will require grassroots change based on fostering interactions between generations.Intergenerational England, a new initiative formed from the public, voluntary and private sectors to take action on ageism through integration rather than segregation, is paving the way to drive this forward.

By bringing together expertise and resources from key organisations working to support the health, education, wellbeing and housing needs of people of all ages across England, Intergenerational England will share best practices, research and innovation in intergenerational approaches. It will: 

  • Promote respect and understanding between different generations to create a more age-friendly society
  • Break down stereotypes and prejudices
  • Influence government policy and initiatives
  • Tackle the nation’s health and housing crises

By embracing intergenerational connection, we will promote positive attitudes towards ageing: generation by generation and sector by sector. Intergenerational England can play a crucial role in combatting the epidemic of ageist prejudice and discrimination. 

Through connection we can bridge the age gap and foster social connection, understanding and empathy between different age groups. By integrating intergenerational practices into education, developing inclusive policies, and allocating funding for intergenerational initiatives, Intergenerational England can challenge ageism and foster a more inclusive society for all.

Charlotte Miller is co-founder of Intergenerational England.

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash.

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3 Comments

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  • Excellent article, unfortunately society often sees older adults as a drain rather than a resource, so they get shunted to one side. We've been delivering training in positive behaviour management for 30+ years at it still amazes me that people don't realise, that the vast majority of people will end up requiring some sort of support as they get older.

  • Hi Charlotte, This is so important. Something I've been proactively doing all my life, either spending time with people considerably older than myself or considerably younger. My appearance on the Two Two's Podcast - myself a GenXer, they GenZ/Millennial - demonstrates precisely your points here. We have way more in common than people would imagine - but the differences too are immense and without this engagement would not be understood. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xkPsBeCinNk The museum of Youth Culture is another great way of assisting the divide. GenXers talking GenA's about their childhoods was a brilliant way of highlighting the difference between going out playing and as oppossed to staring at screens. https://museumofyouthculture.com/ Do get in touch through my email here (sadly don't use Circle - Do you?) Best Paul Atherton (FRSA)

  • Normal streets can provide for intergenerational living, particularly if they offer housing choices. I advocate a Housing Factor of at least '5 in 5'. This means that within five minutes' walk there is a choice of homes offering a price range / size range factor of at least 5 between the cheapest / smallest home and the most expensive / largest. That allows people to move home and stay local at various life stages, promoting long lasting community understanding. Many public and private sector developments have a Housing Factor of or close to 1 - all the same. To move home means to move away. People and communities suffer. The Housing Factor is measurable. Therefore it can be integrated into housing and planning policies, locally and nationally.

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