This year’s International Day of Older Person’s is about acknowledging, enabling and expanding the contributions of older people in their families, communities and societies at large. Our event The HeART of Ageing at The Wheeler Centre took the opportunity to ask “what will it take to change the conversation about ageing?”
The experience of ageing is changing. We are living longer and healthier lives. Modern ageing follows a different life course than that of our parents and grandparents. Older Victorians are a very diverse group.
However as the older population grows, so does the experience of ageism and age discrimination.
COTA’s Vision is that Ageing in Australia is a time of possibility, opportunity and influence. We exist to advance the rights, interests and futures of Australians as we age. We are part of a National Federation that seeks to engage with the 8m older Australians and provide opportunities to be influential in policy, business and society.
We would like to see the conversation change from one of older people being a “burden” or a threat to the opportunities of the younger generation, to one that recognises the enormous contribution made by older people to society. We have a panel that exemplifies this contribution, moderated by Lee Lin Chin, well known journalist and author; Dr. Lois Peeler, Senior Victorian of the Year; Jane Caro, author and social commentator; and Uncle Jack Charles, actor and mentor.
Our panel have all challenged stereotypes throughout their lives so we threw the challenge to them of how we can change this conversation about ageing through the fields of journalism, education and the arts.
One of the first questions asked was “what is ageing really?” We are all ageing. Jane Caro advocated that we should respect all people as human beings and stop creating divisions. Our differences are vastly exaggerated – our similarities are more profound! Lois Peeler described life as being like the four seasons, each with advantages that should be embraced. It was generally agreed that the concept of “retirement” should be retired! The panel exemplified the process of continuing to pursue passions regardless of age, or continuing to find new ways to contribute.
When will governments embrace the opportunities that come from an ageing population? With the changing demographics there are opportunities for everyone to contribute to the economy and society. Marketers are beginning to notice this new segment. Women over 50 are the first generation to have earned their own incomes and have market power. However it was also recognise that there are a proportion of people over 50 (especially women) doing it tough – particularly in relation to employment and housing – resulting in poverty. Mature workers are being made redundant in a constant desire to restructure. We need more employers willing to hire mature workers. Women retired with half the superannuation of men and one third of women have no superannuation at all. We cannot generalise about “older people” as inequality exists across all age groups in our community.
Jane Caro commented that in some ways ageism is like feminism and racism, yet different in that it is actually “discrimination against our future selves”. We need to define and name ageism to get concerted action. Jack Charles and Lois Peeler spoke about the respect for elders in the Aboriginal Culture and their important role in continuing the cultural traditions and values. Both demonstrate this in their work in mentoring and educating young people. There is much that the rest of Australian society can learn from our first peoples.
We hope that this event was the beginning of a conversation about the possibilities and challenges of modern ageing, and that this dialogue can continue across the community as we plan for increased longevity. If you missed the event you can watch it on our YouTube Channel. We are keen to hear your views so join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.