Ageism more common than sexism

// 7 September 2005

A report recently commissioned and published by Age Concern shows that ageism, rather than sexism or racism is the most frequently experienced prejudice.

29% of people interviewed reported experience of prejudice or unfair treatment within the last year related to age (both young and old), where 24% of people experienced sexism, and 19% racism.

From what I can tell this is not adjusted for the number of people who are old, female, ethnic minority etc, so I’m not sure what the value of those figures is. It strikes me that ageism is likely to be more widely experienced just by virtue of being an ‘equal opportunities’ prejudice – everyone has an ‘age’ to be discriminated against. Not everyone is gay or black or disabled or …

The report goes some way towards answering this, saying “if that was the case, we would expect the experience of ageism to be reported as less frequent or significant among minority groups. [I not sure this is necessarily true – LM] However, the findings show that […] ageism further compounds the inequality felt by other groups”.

I certainly don’t want to seem as though I’m trying to tear this report down. It’s very interesting, and it’s great to get people talking and thinking about what prejudices exist in society and why. I’m a bit wary of the slight tone of “those other prejudices aren’t nearly as important everyone thinks”, but I suppose that’s inevitable in what must essentially be a lobbying document for a worthwhile and important charity. And we might even be guilty of the same type of thing in the feminist community sometimes – it’s easy to do when you’re trying to get your individual point across, and it’s impossible to do anything without a measure of bias.

Just one interesting point struck me – I would have guessed that women were far more likely to experience, and report experiencing, discrimination based on gender. But the report says that 24% of all people reported sex discrimination. You would think then, that broadly 50% of women reported it (as they must make up half any representative survey sample) – but the report also says women are AS likely to suffer ageism as sexism. For these two points to both be true would mean either i) women make up 100% of reported ageism victims (and you’d think if they did Age Concern might have pointed it out), or ii) men make up 50% of all reported sexism victims. One to ponder ….

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