On 1 October the world celebrated the International Day of the Older Person.
On this day, attention was drawn to ageism and discrimination in the workplace. While the proportion of elderly people is growing in many developed nations, including the UK, older people are still confronted with outdated negative stereotypes and misconceptions.
This widely prevalent negative societal attitude not only undermines the rights of older people, but also stops them from contributing fully in society. Both problems are unacceptable, but the latter problem also potentially jeopardises the road towards a sustainable society.
Governments and businesses alike have frequently expressed fear at the prospect of an ageing society. That fear has caused some governments to take questionable actions — a month ago, for example, the Italian government got itself into trouble when it initiated Fertility Day in an attempt to boost its country’s falling birth rates.
Age discrimination in the workplace is also reported frequently.
What is, however, overlooked by all worrying parties is that there is plenty of room for opportunity. Improved living conditions, medicines and nutrition have, after all, given us many more healthy years of life; years in which we can live happy and functional lives. These are years that society should not dismiss as useless.
To mark the International Day of the Older Person, the Office for National Statistics has published five facts about older people at work. We would like to add four additional facts to that list, to draw more attention to the value of older people:
- Keeping older people in the workforce means valuable experience can be used for much longer. Since there is, on average, no significant decline in people’s capacity to learn before the age of 75, there is no good reason to force capable employees to retire before they wish to.
- The eyeglass is seen as one of the greatest inventions ever. It has allowed humans to extend their working life significantly by overcoming eyesight deterioration. This change has made societies more productive and effective. It would thus be strange not to take the opportunity to extend human functionality further.
- Even when older people retire, they are still very valuable for society. Many retired people care for their grandchildren — something that can be mutually beneficial for both parties — and this in turn allows parents to save money on childcare, and to return to the workforce.
- Retired people have more time to work as volunteers. Volunteers are necessary to keep society running. Without the valuable service of those who gladly work unpaid jobs, our society would be unrecognisable.
What these facts show is that older people have great value. It is time for that to be accepted, both in word and in action. We should break free from the idea that what used to be considered ‘old’, is still ‘old’. Times have changed, and so have circumstances. There is no fixed path, and the flexibility to alter and adapt will allow us to seize the opportunities that an ageing society presents.