Friday, 4 January 2019

Outdated Stereotypes

Some of the most important barriers to developing good public-health policy on ageing are pervasive misconceptions, attitudes and assumptions about older people. Although there is substantial evidence that older people contribute to society in many ways, they are instead often stereotyped as frail, out of touch, burdensome or dependent. These ageist attitudes limit the way problems are conceptualized, the questions that are asked, and the capacity to seize innovative opportunities. As a starting point for policy-making, they often lead to great emphasis on cost containment.

These outdated stereotypes extend to the way we often frame the life course, assuming it is inevitably categorized into fixed stages. In highincome settings, these are typically early childhood, studenthood, a defined period of working age, and then retirement. Yet these are social constructs that have little physiological basis. The notion of retirement is relatively new, and for many people in low- and middle-income countries it remains abstract. The idea that learning is something that should occur only during the early stages of life reflects outdated employment patterns in which a person trained for a role and, with luck, worked at it for life, sometimes with a single employer.

One consequence of this rigid framing of the life course is that the extra years that accrue from longevity are often considered as simply extending the period of retirement. However, if these extra years can be experienced in good health, then this approach to how they might be used is very limiting. For example, the anticipation of living longer might allow people to raise children and then start a career at age 40 or even 60, to change career paths at any stage in life, or perhaps to choose to retire for a while at 35 and then re-enter the workforce. Retirement itself may evolve into choices that are less stark.

Excerpts taken from: WHO (2015) World Report on Ageing and Health, page 10

photographs by the great Vivian Maier via and via and via and via