The Australian Seniors Series: Gen Seen Report 2024

The Australian Seniors Series: Gen Seen Report 2024 Did you know that 90% of over 50s feel they face stereotypes about their age? Discover how seniors feels about ageism and being ‘unseen’ with this report.
  • 90% of over 50s feel they face stereotypes about their age
  • 73% agree that seniors become less visible after turning 50
  • 81% believe ageism is prevalent in society
  • 29% claim that social media is where seniors are most likely to experience ageism
  • 55% believe Gen Z are the worst ‘ageist’ offenders
  • 42% feel less seen or heard at work after turning 50

As we get older, we tend to stop publicising our age. Despite growing wiser and more fulfilled later in life, the value placed on youth by the world around us can leave us feeling unseen and unheard. However, a cultural shift is underway, with many over 50s embracing ageing, encouraging us to defy stereotypes, take up space, and reclaim our voice. 

The Gen Seen Report 2024 forms part of the Australian Seniors Research Series, which explores issues that matter most to our community. Surveying more than 5,000 Australians over 50, this chapter unpacks what it means to age in 2024, flipping the narrative on ageing and shedding light on the disparity between societal views and how we view ourselves. 

When do you really hit your prime?

There’s truth behind the saying ‘older and wiser’. While most of us reflect joyfully on our younger days, the years after 50 are just as meaningful and enjoyable. In fact, almost 1 in 3 (32%) of us report feeling our happiest post 50, attributing it to the peak of wisdom and life experience (28%), along with life satisfaction (28%).

As we live longer and redefine what it means to grow older, the study found close to 3 in 5 (57%) of us believe we’re yet to hit the prime of our lives. For those of us who feel we have hit our prime, the average age is around 51.

Infographic detailing statistics on what age Australian seniors feel they’ve ‘hit their prime’ and how old they were for their happiest times.

For many of us, discovering unexpected joys in simple pleasures (61%) and developing a greater appreciation for living in the moment (56%) play an important and satisfying role in our journey towards ageing. We also find meaning in travelling and exploring new places (51%), building stronger relationships with our friends and family (46%), taking care of our physical and mental health (44%), and reflecting on our personal growth and our past experiences (38%).

Feeling invisible

While the majority of us feel content with life as we age, there’s a clear disconnect between how society sees us and how we see ourselves. In fact, 9 in 10 (90%) of us have faced age-related stereotypes at some point in our lives. Most of us encounter ageist misconceptions about health issues and medical conditions (58%), while negative stereotypes regarding physical and mental decline remain prominent (44%). These stereotypes leave us feeling disappointed (41%), patronised (26%), and motivated to defy expectations (20%). 

Infographic displaying statistics around how many seniors feel unseen by society, and stereotyped in regards to health issues and medical conditions.

On top of this, 7 in 10 (73%) of us feel that people become less seen or heard in society after the age of 50, particularly around the ages of 60 to 64. It’s clear that experiences of ageism are all too common, and there are certain spaces where we feel especially unseen and unheard, from time spent online to our interactions at work.

One of the most common places where we feel unseen is in the workplace, where over three-quarters (76%) of us agree ageism is prevalent. Further, more than 2 in 5 (42%) of us feel less visible at work after turning 50. This ‘invisible’ feeling manifests in various ways, from feeling undervalued (83%), having our efforts go unnoticed (78%), or feeling overlooked for job opportunities (27%), promotions (23%) and pay rises (19%). Many of us agree that our employers tend to view us differently as we age, with almost a quarter (24%) of us pinpointing the ages between 50-54 as the most notable shift in our visibility at work.

Concerningly, many of us agree that the way we’re portrayed in the media only exacerbates our experiences of invisibility and ageism. Negative stereotypes like limited technological skills (56%), resistance to change (47%), and difficulty adapting to new trends (44%) are widespread. These portrayals have led to a noticeable gap between how we see ourselves and how the media represents us. In fact, three-quarters (75%) of us admit to this disparity, with over half (55%) agreeing that media depictions of older Australians are simply inaccurate.

Dr Marlene Krasovitsky, a consultant to the World Health Organisation’s Global Campaign to Combat Ageism, says, “ageism is pervasive and systemic. It’s so highly tolerated that it is still largely invisible; examples are everywhere, but it can be hard to define.”

The generational divide

In Australia, a perceived decline in respect for elders (69%) is driving a wedge between our community and younger generations, particularly online where social media has emerged as the most common arena for experiencing ageism (29%). A shift away from traditional values (60%), stereotypes around technology (59%), and a general lack of empathy (57%) have all been cited as causes for this intergenerational rift. 

Infographic detailing how seniors in Australia are experiencing ageism, particularly ageism in the workplace and on social media.

Moreover, more than half of us (55%) believe Gen Z are the worst ‘ageist’ offenders, with many of us (85%) citing intergenerational differences in beliefs (60%), behaviours (46%) and attitudes (42%) as the cause for this divide. Personal experiences reinforce these perceptions, with nearly a quarter (23%) of us falling victim to slurs like 'OK Boomer', and 1 in 6 (14%) women facing being called a 'Karen'. Consequently, it's unsurprising that almost a third of us (31%) feel annoyed or frustrated, while others report feeling patronised (30%) or undervalued and disrespected (30%) by these remarks. 

Dismantling stereotypes

While we commonly share feelings of invisibility and misrepresentation, our experiences slightly differ based on our identities.

In healthcare settings, more than 2 in 5 (43%) women over 50 have experienced dismissal of their symptoms as a normal part of ageing, compared to just over a third (34%) of men. Similarly, nearly half (47%) of us agree that men face less pressure to maintain their physical appearance than women. It makes sense that while 3 in 5 (60%) of us have struggled with body shaming issues post 50, this experience is far more common among women (74%) than men (43%). 

Despite these experiences, the good news is that 1 in 5 (20%) of us feels a strong motivation to defy these ageist stereotypes and reclaim our voice. In fact, almost half (45%) of us actively embrace natural ageing and foster a sense of pride in the wisdom and life experience that comes with being over 50. 

The majority (58%) of us are committed to maintaining a positive mindset in the face of ageism. Almost half (48%) of us engage in activities that bring us joy and fulfilment and focus on an active lifestyle. We’re largely on the same page that the top secret to ageing well is happiness (80%).

While there’s certainly a long way to go, Dr Krasovitsky commented on how we can all take steps towards dismantling ageism in our society. “There are effective things we can all do. We can start by naming it,” she adds. “At work, beware the subtle hints about retiring. If you are not thinking of retiring, let people know and affirm your role. Connect across generations to dismantle stereotypes and build understanding.” 

The report has illuminated the diverse and nuanced experiences of Australians over 50, capturing both the trials and triumphs of ageing in our contemporary landscape. Despite grappling with pervasive ageism and entrenched societal stereotypes, many of us are embracing the ageing process with resilience and determination, steadfastly refusing to be confined by outdated perceptions. As we navigate the complexities of intergenerational dynamics and advocate for greater representation and understanding, it becomes increasingly clear that fostering empathy, challenging stereotypes, and championing inclusivity are essential steps towards cultivating a more age-friendly society. 

Dr Marlene Krasovitsky

Marlene is currently consulting to the World Health Organisation's Global Campaign to Combat Ageism. Marlene was the Director and Co-Chair of EveryAGE Counts, Australia's coalition-led campaign against ageism. Previously, Marlene was the Director of Willing to Work, the National Inquiry into Employment Discrimination Against Older Australians and Australians with Disability with the Australian Human Rights Commission. Marlene has a PhD from Sydney University, an Executive Masters of Public Administration (ANZSOG), a Masters of Business Administration (University of Technology, Sydney) and is a registered psychologist.