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Retiring Ageism

5 min read

What’s Retiring Ageism about?

At SunLife, we believe that life after 50 is something to celebrate. In our 2020 report, we highlight the misrepresentation of the over 50s in Britain, both in society and the media.

We ask the questions: when and why do the over 50s begin to feel misrepresented in society? And how is the media and advertising affecting ageism in the UK? Our aim: to challenge outdated stereotypes, and encourage people and brands to reconsider how they represent the over 50s.

By doing this, we hope to get one step closer to retiring ageism in the UK once and for all.

Ready to find out more? Scroll down to explore some key take-outs from the report.

How ageist are we?

Ageism is everywhere, especially in magazine, TV and social media campaigns. Even in 2020, very few brands actively champion the over 50s. They still often fail to recognise this age bracket at all.

If over 50s are included in an advertising campaign, it’s often at their expense. Just think of negative phrases such as ‘anti-aging’ and ‘anti-wrinkle’.

Is advertising ageist? Download the full report

Key findings from the report

  1. 35% of Brits revealed they began to feel neglected or invisible in society at age 50
  2. People over 50 who feel neglected or invisible in society said this made them feel underappreciated (67%), let down (39%) and even depressed or anxious (36%).
  3. Brits over 50 said the top three reasons for them feeling neglected or invisible in society were:
    • brands don’t advertise to people their age (36%)
    • they can’t apply for jobs due to their age (35%)
    • there’s no one their age featured in magazines (21%)
  4. 29% of Brits over 50 admitted this feeling of neglect made them less inclined to try new things.
  5. Brits over 50 don’t feel they are positively represented in the media, with just 15% saying they felt national newspapers represented their age bracket well.
  1. In 2019, Dove’s Instagram feed included someone over 50 in 15% of their posts that feature people – that’s just 7% of their total posts.
  2. In 2019, No.7 featured someone over 50 in three quarters (75%) of their TV advertising.
  3. John Lewis’ entire 2019 Instagram feed had 652 posts, but only one featured someone who appeared to be over 50.
  4. Next posted 907 times on Instagram in 2019, and never featured a single person who appeared to be over 50.
  5. In 2019, L’Oréal worked with Vogue to produce a special edition magazine dedicated to normalising aging and tackling ageism – the cover of which featured Jane Fonda, aged 81.

Why is misrepresentation an issue?

As we know from our 2019 report, ageism can have real-life consequences – from memory loss, to a shorter lifespan.

According to the Royal Society For Public Health (RSPH), society starts telling us that growing old is a bad thing when we’re six. So it’s no wonder this negative attitude is reflected in almost all our media.

Just look the phrase ‘anti-aging’. Even if you do see someone over 50 in an advert, they are often accompanied by this or a similar term.

It’s easy to see how a lifetime of exposure to this misrepresentation can undermine someone’s sense of self-worth.

In fact, 35% of people said they began to feel neglected or invisible in society when they were just 50 years old. 9% of these people even said it affected them physically and made them feel unwell.

The Centre for Ageing Better describes this effect as a self-fulfilling prophecy, with ageist stereotypes and misrepresentation leading older people to internalise society’s views of their age and affect their own capabilities.

This means we’re likely to keep applying these misconceptions to ourselves as we age. And according to the RSPH’s research, this makes us more susceptible to negative health outcomes, such as breakdown of physical function and increased risk of dementia.

The scale of the problem

infographic depicting the scale of the problem
  • Over 3 in 10 50-64 year olds have felt invisible because of their age
  • Only 2 in 10 people over 50 feel national newspapers represent their age positively
  • Almost 3 in 10 men over 50 have felt they couldn’t apply for jobs because of their age
  • Almost 1 in 3 women over 50 feel their age isn’t well-represented in society

Who is misrepresenting the over 50s?

78% of Brits over 50 said they haven’t seen an accurate representation of their age bracket from companies or celebrities in the past year.

Overall, Brits over 50 said they felt most misrepresented by the fashion industry (56%), the sports industry (52%) and the employment/business industry (43%). The good news is, 29% of Brits over 50 say representation of their age has improved over the last five years.

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.

Who is championing the over 50s?

infographic who is representing over 50s

Where brits over 50 saw a positive representation of their age

  • Television - 56%
  • Films - 25%
  • Travel sector - 42%
  • Finance and insurance sector - 40%
  • Food and drink industry - 34%
  • Cosmetics industry - 34%

The three brands that Brits over 50 feel champion their age the best:

  • Marks & Spencer
  • L’Oréal
  • Age UK

We also compiled a ‘league table’ of brands according to how well they represented the over 50s in their social media posts, advertising and UK media coverage between 1st January-31st December 2019:

Index score Brand
1 Dove
2 No.7
3 L’Oréal
4 Barclays
5 B&Q
6 John Lewis
7 Apple
8 Estee Lauder
9 Next
10 M&S

Dove, No.7 and L’Oréal were found to best represent the over 50s. Perhaps surprisingly, M&S scored lowest. Only five of their 1,068 Instagram posts in 2019 included people over 50.

And in the 6% of TV adverts where they did feature someone in this age bracket, they were shown taking a nap while younger people socialised around them.

Retiring ageist stereotypes

Our report includes case studies on inspiring people who prove life after 50 is anything but dull – like John, who started his own business after turning 50:

“I was surprised at people’s reactions when I decided to pursue new skills, such as snowboarding, after I turned 50. I was just doing what I wanted to do! To me, age is just a number.”

After all, with age comes experience, confidence and knowledge – something often overlooked by the UK’s biggest brands.

Thankfully, companies such as Dove are featuring a wider range of people over 50 in their media, and are actively celebrating aging. Vogue even worked with L’Oréal to produce a magazine dedicated to normalising aging and tackling ageism.

With negative attitudes to aging making countless people feel undervalued, these are welcome steps on the way to retiring ageism for good.

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

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 and who provides the SunLife Guaranteed Over 50 Plans?

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

Phoenix Life Limited trades as SunLife and is the provider of the SunLife Guaranteed Over 50 Plan life insurance policies. Phoenix Life Limited’s registered office is at 1 Wythall Green Way, Wythall, Birmingham, B47 6WG, United Kingdom (registered in England and Wales, no. 1016269).

Who provides the Funeral Benefit Option?

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 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.