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Ageist Britain

We're not ageist, are we?

At SunLife, we celebrate life after 50. In this report we’re shining a light on the issue of casual ageism and the impact it has.

It asks the question: why do we discriminate against older age? After all, some of our friends and family are probably already in this group - and it's one we all want to join one day.

What’s this report about?

We're shining a light on the issue of casual ageism and the impact it has on all of us. We want to encourage people to reconsider the language they use, and to challenge outdated perceptions of what it means to be over 50. By doing this we hope to finally retire casual ageism in the UK.

So how prevalent is casual ageism across UK society?

Try typing phrases like ‘old fart’, ‘bitter old man’ and ‘old hag’ into Twitter and you’ll see they’re used thousands of times a week.

Casual ageism is part of our everyday language. It’s so ingrained that many ageist remarks are often overlooked, missed or simply accepted. Many sentiments are subtle and can even be well-intentioned. But the truth is that ‘ageist’ language, however casual, can have a huge impact on our perception of life after 50 and the way we treat people we meet.

But the truth is that ageist language, however casual, perpetuates the myth that life after 50 must be worse than before it.

mobile phones showing ageist remarks

Are we casually ageist in Britain?

Key findings from this research

  1. Over a third of Brits (34%) admit that they have at some time discriminated against people because of their age
  2. Our list of casually ageist phrases are used thousands of times a week on social media
  3. Almost half of Brits in their thirties (48%) admitted to having been ageist at some point
  4. More than two thirds (68%) of over 50s say the ageism apparent in everyday life has made them feel less valued
  5. 40% of Brits have experienced ageism:
    • Almost 1 in 3 Brits have experienced age discrimination at work
    • 1 in 10 on public transport
    • 1 in 7 while shopping
  1. Southampton is the most ageist city in the UK, with 46% of residents admitting to being ageist. Bristol is the least ageist in the UK, with only 20% admitting to being ageist
  2. ‘Old fart’, ‘little old lady’, ‘bitter old man’ and ‘old hag’ are the most used ageist phrases on social media
  3. ‘Old fart’ is used on social media almost 23,000 times a year and ‘old hag’ is considered to be the most offensive term
  4. Better representation in advertising, and greater awareness of the impact of ageist language and derogatory terms were the main ways Brits believe we can combat ageism
  5. A fifth don’t believe the UK is a good place for over 50s to live and 31% say they believe ageism is a bigger problem today than three years ago

So why is casual ageism an issue?

Research has proven that ageism can have real life consequences, promoting exclusion and affecting physical and mental health.

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH)* and Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s (UK Branch) study highlights the growing body of research pointing to the real-life consequences that negative attitudes to ageing have on individual health outcomes. These include memory loss, breakdown of physical function, and an increased risk of dementia.

It also indicates that people who develop a negative attitude towards ageing live, on average, 7.5 years less than those maintaining a more positive attitude. Given that ageing affects us all, it’s hard to understand why society continues to promote these attitudes and behaviours.

We begin to absorb ageist stereotypes at a young age. It seeps through the films and TV shows we watch and stories we read. Once we reach what we think is ‘old age’ we begin to apply these attitudes and misconceptions to ourselves – both physically and mentally.

This is because ‘When negative age stereotypes are encountered by individuals before they are directed at themselves, there is unlikely to be a felt need to mount defences against them; hence, susceptibility is maximized.’*2

This is what makes ageism significant. Membership is not fixed but inevitably acquired over time. Yet despite this, society always presents ageing as something we do not have a choice in. When in reality, we have the freedom to decide how we want to live in older age.

Whether we know it or not, we’re subtly reinforcing the message that ageing is a condition that takes away our freedom.

The scale of the problem

  • 10% of people over 50 claimed to have personally experienced ageism in the last month.
  • More than two thirds (68%) of over 50s say the ageism apparent in everyday life has made them feel less valued.
  • In the UK, over a third of people (34%) admit that they have at some time discriminated against people because of their age. This rises to 43% among under 50s and falls to 24% among over 50s.
  • 3% of us admit to being ageist on a regular basis.
infographic depicting the scale of the problem

Busting the myths - why life over 50 is great

In 2016 as part of our Big 50 project, we interviewed 50,004 men and women over 50 across the UK – making it the biggest piece of over 50s research ever. So we really can say that we know over 50s better than anyone.

We went into the project with the hypothesis that today’s 50 is not our parents’ 50. With vastly improved life expectancy and health, we are fitter, more energetic, younger at heart and better prepared to meet the challenges facing us.

The scale of our research means we can now pull apart our findings, showing that life after 50 is in fact better in a lot of ways than life before it.

  • 43% have visited a new European country since turning 50
  • 38% have visited a new country outside Europe
  • Over 50s feel on average almost 10 years mentally younger than their current age (9.9 years)
  • Over 50s feel on average almost 4 years physically younger than their current age (3.9 years)

I care less what
others think about me - 78%


I have more time to do
the things I want to do - 69%


I enjoy life
more now - 61%


I live for today and let
tomorrow take care of itself - 56%


I have more money
to spend on myself - 56%


I see more
of my friends - 56%


I really let my
hair down and relax - 55%


My life is
more exciting - 42%

*Source: Stats taken from SunLife’s 2016 Big 50 research as part of the Welcome to Life After 50 campaign.

So there you have it, an overview of how we’re casually ageist in Britain, despite life after 50 being the best years of your life.

Download our full report for more data, our research methodology and how organisations are trying to stamp out casual ageism.

Download the full PDF report

*2 Levy, B., Slade, Martin D., Kasl, S. V., Kunkel, S. R., (2002), Longevity increased by positive self-perceptions of ageing, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, no.2, 261-270) 

Here's the information that you need to know about who we are and the other companies that we work with in order to provide our products and services.

Who are SunLife?

Phoenix Life Limited trades as SunLife and is the provider of the Guaranteed Over 50 Plan, SunLife Insurance and the life insurance policy payment option for Funeral Plans. Phoenix Life Limited’s registered office is at 1 Wythall Green Way, Wythall, Birmingham, B47 6WG (registered in England, no. 1016269). 

SunLife Limited distributes financial products and services and is a company limited by shares, registered office: 1 Wythall Green Way, Wythall, Birmingham, B47 6WG (registered in England, no. 05460862). SunLife Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and is entered on the Financial Services Register (registration no. 769427).

You can contact us by post at SunLife, PO Box 1395, Peterborough, PE2 2TR or by phone on 0800 008 6060.

If you choose to add Funeral Benefit Option to your Guaranteed Over 50 Plan, Dignity Funerals Ltd arranges and provides the funeral services, registered office: 4 King Edwards Court, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, B73 6AP (registered in England and Wales, No. 00041598). Dignity Funerals Ltd is a member of the National Association of Funeral Directors.

Who provides the Funeral Plans?

Dignity Funerals Ltd arranges and provides the funeral services, registered office: 4 King Edwards Court, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, B73 6AP (registered in England and Wales, No. 00041598). Dignity Funerals is not authorised or regulated for this activity by either the Financial Conduct Authority or the Prudential Regulation Authority. Dignity Funerals Ltd is a member of the National Association of Funeral Directors.

The life insurance policy that pays for your funeral will be provided by Phoenix Life Limited, trading as SunLife.

Who provides My Smarter (ISA)?

My Smarter (ISA) is provided by Scottish Friendly Asset Managers Limited. Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Details can be found on the Financial Services register, registration No. 188832. Member of The Investment Association. Registered Office: Scottish Friendly House, 16 Blythswood Square, Glasgow G2 4HJ.

Who provides the Will writing services?

Hugh James is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA Number:303202).

The information contained on this website is based on Hugh James' understanding of the law of intestacy in England and Wales only as at April 2014. The law in Scotland and Northern Ireland is significantly different. This is for information purposes and is not intended to be legal advice.

Who provides SunLife Pet Insurance

SunLife Pet Insurance is arranged and administered by BDML Connect Limited. BDML Connect Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (No. 309140). Registered in England and Wales Number 02785540. Registered Office: 45 Westerham Road, Bessels Green, Sevenoaks, Kent, TN13 2QB.

Who provides SunLife Home Insurance

SunLife Home Insurance is arranged and administered by BISL Limited and underwritten by a panel of insurers. BISL Limited are an intermediary authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered in England no. 03231094. Registered office Pegasus House, Bakewell Road, Orton Southgate, Peterborough PE2 6YS.

Who provides SunLife Car Insurance

SunLife Car Insurance is arranged and administered by BISL Limited and underwritten by a panel of insurers. BISL Limited are an intermediary authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered in England no. 03231094. Registered office Pegasus House, Bakewell Road, Orton Southgate, Peterborough PE2 6YS.