Ageism and Diversity

Diversity and experiences of ageism and inequality in later life.

My research

My ongoing narrative inquiry with counselling service users aged 65 upwards contributes fresh knowledge and understanding which counteracts the ageist prejudice, negative discrimination and existing lack of respect for diversity, which unjustly adversely affects many peoples’ experiences of later life.

Social Justice and human rights.

Exploring ageing, diversity and inequality from the social justice and human rights perspective argued in my research, Sue Westwood (2019) draws attention to the significance of advocacy and representation for ageing and equality:

 Older people not only need access to a wide range of resources in later life, and to be recognised and valued as equal members of society, but they also need parity of participation, i.e. social connectedness, social engagement, community involvement, political voice, advocacy (where required) and inclusion in research.  Only when all three-dimensions of equality are attained for all older people, across the diversity spectrum, will social justice in later life have been achieved. (Westwood,2019. pp.17-18).                             

The Centre for Ageing Better also highlights how the widening diversity of the increasing older population has been overlooked:

There is a staggering lack of evidence for some groups and certain aspects of inequalities. We have ignored or overlooked the diversity of our ageing population, arguably through focusing primarily on the differences between young and old.  (Centre for Ageing Better, 2017, p.12).

Multiple discrimination and Double Jeopardy.

Sergeant (2011) is likewise concerned with the negative effects on older people of unjust  discrimination and stereotyping forms of ageism.  He investigates how age relates to other diverse characteristics to create the potential for ‘multiple discrimination’.  Roseberry (2011) explores the nature of multiple discrimination in the social experiences of a widely diverse range of older people.  She concludes that a redefinition of discrimination is required to understand the multiple identity categories represented within society, and the relationships of dominance and subordination that lie at the root of discrimination.  She concludes that human rights representation and social justice clearly require consideration of all the grounds of discrimination that may be implicated in the individual cases of older people in the context of widespread ageist social constructs (Roseberry, 2011).  Many older people in the UK today are experiencing what researchers have described as ‘double jeopardy’ (Centre for Ageing Better, 2017).  They feel the effects of multiple discriminations which are characterised by a distressing combination of ageist stereotyping and the ongoing social dominance and subordination of other pre-existing inequalities in relation to class, culture, disability, gender, race and sexuality, which not only continue into later life but also sometimes become even more acute in their negative effects on day-to-day life experience.

Valuing difference, respecting individual agency and promoting positive ageing.

Gilleard & Higgs (2013) argue for respecting individual agency and valuing differences in the continued ‘embodiment’ of diversity in later life, particularly in the context of promoting new ‘positive ageing’ discourses, as advocated in my research.  They draw attention to how the sense of agency associated with  performing and re-forming the embodied identities of disability, gender, race and sexuality still continues into later life (Gilliard & Higgs (2013).

Also the continuation into later life of the various narratives and practices associated with these identities contributes significantly to what Ken and Mary Gergen have termed ‘the new ageing’ (Gergen & Gergen, 2000). The choice of  resisting ‘old age’ is resisting old age’s ‘neutering’ of these identities by foreclosing the practices that sustain them.  Accordingly, staying black, staying gay, staying gendered and staying disabled in later life is not so much about clinging onto youth as it is about retaining the ‘virtues’ of these particular identities and their embodiment.  The same can be said for the wider narratives and practices of a generation that has learnt to privilege choice, autonomy, self-expression and pleasure (Gilleard & Higgs).

The global pandemic and older people.

The recent ‘coronavirus’ pandemic has dramatically brought into sharp focus the oppressed and threatened position of diverse older people in society globally.  In the words of Dr. Anna Dixon MBE, Chief Executive of the Centre for Ageing Better, introducing their challenging new report about current research into ageist stereotyping and negative discrimination in Britain:

Ageism is deeply damaging, yet all too often it isn’t taken as seriously as other forms of prejudice or discrimination.  Britain is long overdue a fundamental culture shift to overturn these attitudes, and the media needs to reflect the diverse experience of people in later life”. (Centre for Ageing Better, 2020. p.1)

The social action aims of my research.

From a human rights and social justice perspective my ongoing multi-disciplinary research contributes to the long overdue and now urgent ‘fundamental culture shift’ advocated by the Centre for Ageing Better.  I am investigating existing unequal power relationships within UK society and exposing potential injustice and human rights abuse.  I am also contributing to the development of ‘anti-oppressive counselling practice’ (Proctor, 2017), which respects individual differences, values diversity amongst older people, promotes autonomy and facilitates positive ageing experiences.


Centre for Ageing Better. (2017) Inequalities in Later Life: The issue and the implications for policy and practice. London:  Centre for Ageing Better Ltd.

Centre for Ageing Better. (2020) Doddery but dear? Examining age-related stereotypes. London: Ageing Better Ltd.

Gergen, K. & Gergen, M. (2000) ‘The New Ageing: Self Construction and Social Values’. In R.Schaie & J.Hendricks (Eds) The Evolution of the Ageing Self: The Societal Impact on the Ageing Process. New York: Springer. 281-306.

Gilleard, C & Higgs, P. (2013) Ageing, Corporeality and Embodiment. London: Anthem Press.

Proctor (2017) The dynamics of power in counselling and psychotherapy: Ethics, politics and practice. (2nd edition) Monmouth: PCCS Books.

Roseberry, L. (2011) ‘Multiple Discrimination’. In M. Sergeant (Ed.) Age Discrimination and Diversity: Multiple discrimination from an Age Perspective. Cambridge University Press.

Sergeant,M. (Ed.) (2011) Age Discrimination and Diversity: Multiple discrimination from an Age Perspective.  Cambridge University Press.

Westwood, S. (2019) Ageing, Diversity and Equality: Social Justice Perspectives. Abingdon: Routledge.

Christopher Tovey
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