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In an earlier article I talked about how the media has so much impact on the way we see ourselves.  It is interesting how a current campaign of the Centre for Ageing Better is calling out many of the things that the media do by default.   

If you look at newspaper coverage and how it talks about age, implicitly and explicitly it reinforces limited assumptions and negative portrayals of older people.  Many articles use people’s ages even when it’s irrelevant to the content and purpose of the story.  For example, a recent article talked about “Carol McGiffin, aged 62, dazzles in a sequined biker jacket with her husband, Mark Cassidy, 40, as they join Linda Robson at the Best Heroes Award”.   

  • Why is the age relevant and why does that reference to 62 immediately precede the words ‘dazzles in a sequin biker jacket’?   
  • Why is it important to acknowledge that she has a husband who is 22 years younger than her?   
  • What kinds of assumptions and prejudice is this trying to fuel?   

There are other questions that the Centre raises: 

  • How often are we talking about ageless beauty?  ‘I’m 72 but look 20 years younger.’   
  • Why is this something that we continue to promote?   
  • In our latter years we aspire to maintain youthful beauty, why is it negative to look old?   
  • Why have we been colluding with the cosmetic industry that has defined beauty so narrowly that only people under the age of 35 can be seen as beautiful?   

Then there’s this association of words such as ‘elderly’ with ‘vulnerable’ or phrases such as ‘boomers have it better than millennials’.  This is using ageist stereotypes to build difference and to engage people in othering.   

The Centre for Ageing Better is trying to persuade IPSO, the independent body that regulates most of the UK’s newspapers and magazines, to add age to clause twelve of its editor’s code of practice, which focuses on avoiding discrimination.  It is extraordinary that when age is a protected characteristic in UK equality law that the newspaper and magazine industry fail to recognise this.  A simple prohibition for making prejudicial or pejorative references to your age, or from giving details of your age when it’s irrelevant to the story would be putting age on a similar level to the code of practice in relation to your race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical/ mental illness or disability.  For these protected characteristics under equality legislation reference to these characteristics should be avoided unless it’s genuinely relevant to the story and should not be mentioned in a pejorative or prejudicial manner.   

Mind the Gap?   

I think this failure of IPSO reflects the fact that the Equality and Human Rights Commission themselves provide very little support to address issues of ageism.  Remarkable as all of us will become older unless we die first.   

Perhaps you could consider how the media you consume brings in these prejudicial or pejorative references to people’s ages when it’s irrelevant to the story.  Why not write to the editor complaining and start to challenge press and media ageism?  

Ageism fuels intergenerational conflict and will not solve the inequality in our society.  The only way this will change is if we, as individuals, choose to challenge the status quo.   


Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.