The Australian Seniors Series: Modern Australian Manners Survey

Manners and social practices help to shape a respectable society and are instilled in us from a very early age. Lack of standardised societal rules could mean a very different Australia to the one we live in today, perhaps where smoking indoors in public places is acceptable, or where ‘Ps and Qs’ ("Please", "Thank you" and "Excuse me") are merely letters of the alphabet. In today’s endlessly changing society the goal posts of ‘expected social behaviour’ also continue to change. The seventh instalment of ‘The Australian Seniors Series’ explores the extent to which Australia’s over 50s are adapting to emerging social etiquette expectations and their attitudes towards these changes.

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To be PC or not to be PC

While Aussie seniors value the importance of good manners, nine in ten agree that people are too politically correct (or ‘PC’) these days and believe that the push for constant PC behaviour is ruining society (86.0%). In fact, ‘having to be politically correct all the time’ is a top pet peeve for more than half of Aussie seniors (51.6%).  While PC practices can be considered both a prerequisite and a faux pas, there is no question that having racist, sexist, classist or ageist opinions is one of the greatest gaffes that be can be committed, with two thirds agreeing to this.

Cyber social seniors

With new means of communication frequently emerging, so too are unique guidelines as to what is considered ‘socially acceptable’. It seems tech-savvy seniors are confident with the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of social media, with three quarters saying they understand these at least reasonably well. In fact, those over 50 are on the same page with their millennial counterparts when it comes to social media etiquette, with both generational groups ranking ‘not embarrassing others in public forums’ as one of the top three blunders on social media platforms (ranking 8.2 and 8.6 out of 10 respectively).

While it’s clear that Aussie seniors have a strong understanding of social media etiquette, they don’t let this overpower their deeply rooted values of good manners. They place more value on traditional practices such as ‘putting phones away in meetings’, which seniors agree is the most important social etiquette practice in the workplace (ranking 9.2 out of 10). ‘Being punctual’ (9.1 out of 10) and ‘ensuring personal hygiene’ (7.8 out of 10) are also imperative workplace social graces.

A time and a place for everything

The ‘norms’ of social etiquette are situational and differ between public settings. Regarding etiquette during dinner parties, BBQs and eating out in general, seniors recognise ‘not being rude or aggressive to staff’ as the most important social etiquette practice, ranking an average score of 9.3 out of 10.  This is closely followed by ‘eating with mouth closed or not talking while eating’ and ‘waiting for all guests to be served before eating’ (ranking an average score of 8.3 and 5.9 out of 10 respectively).

Seniors today aren’t afraid to stand by their values and prioritise good manners regardless of the setting, whether this is when dining out, in the workplace or in using technology. An appreciation for basic manners and respectable behaviour is no more obvious than when in public places, with seniors rating ‘remembering Ps and Qs’ as the most important social etiquette practice (average ranking score of 9.7 out of 10). Seniors are also wise to respecting the traditional Aussie values of mateship and equality, with the majority agreeing that the most important social etiquette practices are ‘treating everyone as equals’ (9.2 ranking) and ‘looking out for your mates’ (8.8 ranking). This is followed by ‘remaining modest and down to earth’ (6.1 ranking) and ‘not being offended by good humoured teasing’ (5.4 ranking). While times certainly are changing, Aussie seniors’ innate pull to uphold good manners and respect for others has not wavered.

Stand by your manners

The research shows that Australia’s over 50s are a generation of grounded individuals who place a lot of importance on being authentic. Seniors are not straying from their beliefs for catering to a politically correct focused world, with over forty percent (43.2%) agreeing that they don’t feel pressured to alter their behaviour to fit in with a particular set of circumstances.

Over 50s truly value good old fashioned Aussie etiquette when it comes to dining out, the workplace or being an upstanding member of society in general, and are ahead of the game when it comes to the rules of modern technologies such as social media. Seniors continue to be progressive individualists, adapting to the ever-changing etiquette ‘norms’ in society while standing strongly by their beliefs, morals and values in doing so.

Stay tuned for the next chapter of the Australian Seniors Series… A report for seniors, by Seniors.


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Modern Australian Manners Survey [pdf]