Getting older

We’re all getting older, right? So why are some people worrying about being called older workers? Is it internalised ageism?

Older woman at work


I’m older, at least older than I was yesterday. Everyone is. Time ticks on by and we can’t hold it back. So I was interested to hear the other day that there is some concern in policy circles about calling older people older. No-one wants to identify as older, it seems. Yet we’re all banging on about ageism these days.

Older is associated with old age and old age is seen as a very negative thing. Isn’t that what anti-ageism campaigns are supposed to be combating? If the organisations who are involved in those campaigns can’t bring themselves to use the word older that seems a bit worrying. Have we all internalised the anti-ageing message to such an extent that we can’t bring ourselves to think we are getting older?

Instead we have to pretend we are all spring chickens, who will live until we are 100 and who are out hiking and surfing and living life to the full, which may be true of some – probably wealthier – people, but many are not so lucky. And a lot of us lie somewhere in the middle. And is it 61 year olds who worry about the wording or younger people approaching or entering their 50s?

I’ve been in a fair few meetings recently in my other job about climate change and AI in particular. The topic of over-positivity and panic-mongering comes up a lot. How do we steer a path between the two which embraces both the positives and negatives and is a bit more realistic? I feel the same way about ageing. I’ve lost count of the photos of supposedly older people I’ve seen on websites and marketing documents who look at the max 40 years old. It just makes people over 50 feel worse about themselves. Yet people complain if you use photos that suggest all older people have grey hair. Of course, not everyone does, but quite a few do. It’s about balance surely. Older people is a vague, all-encompassing category after all and 50 year olds may have very different needs and interests to 60 year olds.

There are good things about being older which should be celebrated, but there are age-related challenges – you might not be quite as mobile as you were when you were younger, you might be on blood pressure tablets or the like, you might be looking after elderly relatives…It’s no good pretending that these things don’t exist. We will all, hopefully, age – if we’re lucky.  Many of the people around me are dealing with the loss of parents – or siblings – at the moment or caring for parents. There are bigger fish to fry than worrying about the word older.

The older thing is linked in large part, I think, to a fear of dying. But I would argue that we need to confront that fear and that that fear is what stops us from being able to help people who are bereaved and from facing bereavement ourselves. Can’t we have a grown-up conversation about ageing without having to rebrand it as ‘age inclusive’ or some bland term that is so all-encompassing that it doesn’t actually address the very real issues related to getting older in the workplace?

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