Across the world, populations are ageing as a result of increased life expectancy and declining fertility rates. The implications of these changes are huge. However, rather than celebrate that more and more people are living longer lives, our paternalistic and ageist society in the UK sees older people largely as a ‘problem’, a ‘burden’, a demographic ‘timebomb.’
As Claire Keatinge, active ageing specialist and former Northern Ireland Commissioner for Older People explains in Museums and an Ageing Population, the contribution that older people make to society is vastly underestimated. Older people contribute over £40 billion to the UK economy through volunteering, childcare and taxes, yet they are seen as a massive drain on resources. In a deeply ageist society the main question being asked is – what are we going to do with older people?
People in their later stages of life are mainly seen in terms of what they take from society (health care, social care, pensions) rather than being valued for what they contribute. How can we challenge these perceptions of ageing? Where do these perceptions come from?