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UK is an ageing society but stereotypes persist

by on November 10, 2014

The Guardian on Sunday provides a very useful overview of the demographic profile of the UK under the heading “Britain is an ageing country – so maybe it’s time we started seriously to cater for people’s needs”.   And just for today I will lay off criticism of their subheading “As baby boomers start to outnumber children under five, a social crisis is looming that will affect every generation” (aside from pointing out the conflation of generation and chronological age that persists throughout the article).

As Rebecca’s post highlighted on Friday, everybody seems to love an infographic these days.  And there are lots of them in this article.  Indeed the overall summary of ageing is pretty good.  It was good to see – albeit briefly – an acknowledgement of the huge gaps between the wealthy elderly and the poor elderly – the latter are often written out of such accounts.  Indeed the piece does a fairly good job of highlighting these disparities in the early paragraphs.

However my problem comes with the statement that: “We will also need to set aside a fondness for stereotypes and try to understand the lives of older people”.  There are still too many generalizations about ‘baby boomers’ in the article.  It was regarding work that the stereotypes seemed most damning within this article.  It is suggested that as we move into our sixties “voluntary work and hobbies” will become more important than paid work.  This seems to be exactly the sort of stereotypical statement we should be hoping that a piece such as this would avoid.  For those of us not that far off our sixties, retirement (which I assume hobbies and voluntary work alludes too) is a very very long way off and drifting further into the distance.

In fact the overall issue here is a trivializing of ageing rather than a recognition of its many different shapes forms and challenges.  Just as there is no singular experience of childhood or youth so there is no single experience of ageing.  Yet commercial organisations seem to want to simplify this to commodify it and capitalise on it.   Let’s hope papers like the Guardian do more to resist this in the future and show they really are serious about opening up the debate.


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