One in every two people in the world holds ageist attitudes, and the Australian economy would grow by $62 billion annually if just 5 per cent more people aged over 55 were employed, according to a United Nations report.
The report, released by the World Health Organisation, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the UN Population Fund, called for urgent action to address ageism around the world, something it labelled an “insidious scourge on society”.
Ageism has regularly been found to be prevalent in the tech sector, with a recent report finding that one in 10 workers in the IT sector have experienced age discrimination in the workplace.
According to a survey of more than 83,000 people in 57 countries, every second person held moderately or highly ageist attitudes.
The UN report found that in Australia, if just 5 per cent of people aged 55 years or older were employed, there would be a positive impact of $62 billion ($US48) million on the national economy annually.
Ageism applies to younger and older people, and is costing societies billions of dollars each year, according to UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs assistant secretary-general for policy coordination and interagency affairs, Maria-Francesca Spatolisano.
“Ageism towards younger and older people is prevalent, unrecognised, unchallenged and has far-reaching consequences for our economies and societies,” Spatolisano said. “Together, we can prevent this. Join the movement and combat ageism.”
For younger people, ageism manifests across employment, health, housing and politics, and often sees their voices being denied or dismissed.
For older people, this form of discrimination relates to poorer physical and mental health, and can lead to increased social isolation, loneliness, higher levels of financial insecurity, decreased quality of life and premature death.
The report alarmingly found 6.3 million cases of depression globally that are believed to be attributable to ageism.
The response around the world to the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on ageism, World Health Organisation director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, with age often used as the sole criterion for access to medical care and life saving therapies.
“As countries seek to recover and rebuild from the pandemic, we cannot let age-based stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination limit opportunities to secure the health, wellbeing and dignity of people everywhere,” Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
“This report outlines the nature and scale of the problem but also offers solutions in the form of evidence-based interventions to end ageism at all stages.”
Ageism is rife around the world but often not recognised, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said.
“Often, it is so widespread and accepted – in our attitudes and in policies, law and institutions – that we do not even recognise its detrimental effect on our dignity and rights,” Bachelet said.
“We need to fight ageism head-on, as a deep-rooted human rights violation.”
A report late last year found the tech sector had some of the highest levels of age discrimination in any industry. It found that one in 10 of surveyed workers had faced age discrimination in tech.
Of those surveyed, just over 38 per cent of young people aged 18 to 24 years old said they have experienced age discrimination, while over 20 per cent of those aged over 55 years old also had.
In 2019, a group of Australian entrepreneurs launched a new startup in an effort to address age discrimination in tech.
PrimeL is a platform that places older workers in part-time, full-time or contract employment, and also helps users with the necessary training programs to help them get “refreshed” and ready for a new job.