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New research project aims to shift public attitudes to ageing

Our new research project with ComRes and Equally Ours aims to better understand how ageing is portrayed in the media, on social media and in public policy.

Areas covered by the research will include charity campaigns, government policy documents and political discourse, and traditional and social media.

A new research project will examine how ageing and demographic change are talked about in society, with the aim of shifting to a new, more positive narrative.

The Centre for Ageing Better and Age-Friendly Manchester will work with market researchers ComRes and equality and human rights charity Equally Ours to better understand how ageing is portrayed in the media, on social media and in public policy. Senior leaders in these areas will be interviewed, and the research will use focus groups and surveys to explore how common phrases and language affect how we feel about ageing.

Ageing Better believes that the way ageing is talked about can damage people’s sense of self-worth and limit their aspirations. It may also contribute to structural and institutional ageism, such as in the workplace, stereotypes in TV and advertising, poorly targeted services, and the limited development and marketing of products for people in later life.

The results of the research will help to guide different sectors and organisations whose work relates to ageing. Areas covered by the research will include charity campaigns, government policy documents and political discourse, and traditional and social media.

Emma Twyning, Head of Communications at the Centre for Ageing Better, said:

“We are enjoying much longer lives than generations before us, which opens up a wealth of opportunity for us as individuals and for society. And yet the way we talk about growing old and ageing is often negative and based on lazy and outdated stereotypes.

“These subtle but damaging messages are everywhere, from the TV shows we watch featuring ‘doddery but dear’ characters and the ‘anti-ageing’ face creams we buy, to the media reports about the ‘burden’ of our ageing population.

“We want to use this research to get under the skin of what’s happening and how the language and framing we commonly use around ageing affects people. Ultimately we want to shift the overwhelmingly negative societal narrative to find a more positive and constructive way of talking about ageing.”

Hannah J. Swift PhD, a Senior Lecturer in Social and Organisational Psychology who works on ageing, language and stereotypes at the University of Kent, added:

“This research is the first crucial step in trying to tackle harmful prejudiced attitudes towards older people and the perceived negativity surrounding the ageing process. To do this, we need to understand what the dominant perceptions of ageing and older people are, and to test different strategies to shift these perceptions.”