GENEVA • Being afraid of growing old may shorten your life, the UN health agency has said, as new data highlighted the widespread prevalence of ageist attitudes worldwide.
In a first-of-its-kind survey released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday, 60 per cent of respondents believed older people "were not respected".
Attitudes towards older people were more negative in richer countries, according to the data from more than 83,000 respondents aged 18 and above in 57 countries.
By 2030, Singapore will have more than 900,000 residents aged 65 and above. Population numbers released on Monday show that as of end-June, 13.7 per cent of citizens were aged 65 and above, compared with 9.2 per cent 10 years ago.
The WHO data confirms "that ageism is extremely common", said the WHO's head of Ageing and Life Course John Beard.
He warned that discriminatory and negative views about older people can have sweeping consequences, including for younger people.
"There is very good evidence that people who have negative views of themselves as they grow older... it shortens their lives," Mr Beard said.
The WHO cited recently published research indicating that "people who hold negative views about their own ageing do not recover as well from disability and live on average 7.5 years less than people with positive attitudes".
The WHO cited recently published research indicating that "people who hold negative views about their own ageing
do not recover as well from disability and live on average 7.5 years less than people with positive attitudes".
Attitudes about ageing are "on the level that racism and sexism were maybe 20, 30 or 40 years ago", Mr Beard said. "Things which are no longer accepted if you were talking about someone on the basis of their race or sex are still tolerated when it comes down to their age."
WHO does not define the group victimised; discrimination could be directed at a 50-year-old seeking a new job, or a 65-year-old facing mandatory retirement but who remains a productive employee.
Mr Beard also came out against compulsory, age-defined policies such as mandatory retirement, describing them as "problematic".
The Singapore Government has said the re-employment age would be raised from 65 to 67 from July 1 next year. Official figures show the percentage of people aged 65 to 69 working in Singapore has jumped in 10 years, from 24 per cent in 2006 to more than 40 per cent last year.
In seeking a more just definition of what it means to be old, Mr Beard said the WHO had begun using the mid-point of life expectancy in each country. That means, for example, in Britain, where life expectancy is 81, anyone over 41 would be defined as "older", he said, voicing hope that this new definition would be "liberating" for those who viewed the onset of their 60s as an ominous benchmark.
There are about 600 million people worldwide over the age of 60, a figure set to double by 2025 and hit two billion by 2050, the WHO said.
Because the survey was the first set of global data on ageism, WHO officials said it was difficult to track how attitudes had shifted over time, but added there was some evidence that ageism was on the rise.