New Delhi: India is among several low- and middle-income countries including Nigeria and Yemen that account for the highest prevalence of ageism, says a global report on ageism published by the World Health Organization (WHO).
According to the report, ageism against older people is widespread across institutions, including those providing health and social care, and in workplaces, the media and others.
A survey of more than 83,000 people from 57 countries covering all six WHO regions of the world conducted between 2010 and 2014, showed that at least one in every two people held moderately or highly ageist attitudes. The six regions include Africa, the Americas, South-East Asia, Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean region, and the Western Pacific region.
Ageism refers to the stereotypes (how we think), prejudice (how we feel) and discrimination (how we act) directed towards people on the basis of their age. It can be institutional, interpersonal or self-directed.
Examples of institutional ageism include discriminatory hiring practices or mandatory retirement ages; interpersonal ageism includes disrespecting or patronising older and younger adults, ignoring their points of view in decision-making or avoiding contact and interactions; and self-directed ageism refers to ageism turned against oneself, like older individuals hesitant to learn new skills later in life or people in their twenties who think that they are too young for a job and maybe reluctant to apply.
This study classified countries as low, moderate, or high in ageist attitudes and found that 34 of the 57 countries were classified as moderate or high. 39% of survey participants from low-income and lower-middle-income countries, including India, were high in ageist attitudes.
The report said, “This is concerning, given that about half (48.3%) of the world’s population lives in low-income and lower middle-income countries: 9.3% in low-income countries and 39% in lower-middle-income countries”
However, lower prevalence rates were found in higher-income countries such as Australia, Japan and Poland. The study found that 69% of participants from high-income countries were low in ageist attitudes compared with 18% from low-income and lower-middle-income countries.
The prevalence of highly ageist attitudes was slightly higher among younger people and males, and it was markedly higher among people who had less education, the study revealed.
It found it affects billions of people globally and is a damaging human rights issue and public health problem.
Cross-cultural variation in ageism
A 2015 review of the study explored the issue of cross-cultural variation in ageism in greater depth. It was done on the prevailing belief that cultures in South-East Asia and Western Pacific like China, India, Japan, Philippines and Vietnam hold older adults in higher esteem than in anglophone cultures such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States and Europe.
However, the analysis found the opposite evidence.
It found that people in China, Japan and the Republic of Korea exhibited the greatest negativity towards older people within the South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions. Non-anglophone Europeans had the greatest negativity towards older people compared with North American and other anglophone countries – the reason being rapid demographic changes in population ageing.
A 2019 review of attitudes towards ageing and older people in Arab cultures pointed towards more tolerance of older people, a stronger perception of them as contributing to society compared with other countries, such as France and the Netherlands. However, when other studies were conducted within the same country, a more negative view prevailed.
According to the authors of the report, “the differences may also partly be due to the pressure of social norms that prescribe reverence for older people. This may lead respondents to feel reluctant to express negative views about individual older people, but freer to be critical of older people in general.”