High levels of concern about ageing paints a negative picture for later life – Ipsos study

Ipsos’ exclusive study, conducted in partnership with the Centre for Ageing Better, a UK-based charity funded by an endowment from The National Lottery Community Fund, shows the negativity felt by the online public across 30 countries about ageing, and how they are preparing for later life.

  • ‘Not having enough money to live on’ tops the list of worries people have about getting old
  • Six in ten Australians agree that there is a lack of respect towards the elderly
  • On average, Australians believe old age starts at 66

Sydney, 13 February 2019 – Ipsos’ exclusive study, conducted in partnership with the Centre for Ageing Better, a UK-based charity funded by an endowment from The National Lottery Community Fund, shows the negativity felt by the online public across 30 countries about ageing, and how they are preparing for later life.

Optimism about later life

Globally, just one in three (33%) are looking forward to old age and in Australia, we are more negative, with only 29% looking forward to it. There are some significant differences between countries, with some feeling much more positive about old age including three quarters (73%) in India and two thirds (67%) in Turkey. Only six countries are positive on balance. At the other end of the scale, people in Hungary are least optimistic; only 7% say they are looking forward to old age and people in Japan are similarly negative (10%).

While people around the world recognise that there are positives to getting old, including having more time to spend with friends and family (36%), more time for hobbies and leisure (32%), more time for holidays and travel (26%) and giving up work (26%) they also identify a number of downsides. Globally, three in ten worry about not having enough money to live on (30%) with a quarter worrying about losing mobility (26%) and losing memory (24%).

Despite this, a majority of us expect to be fit and healthy in old age (57%) although in Australia only 44% of respondents expect this. There is considerable variation between the countries surveyed. Nine in ten of those in Colombia, Argentina, China, Peru and Malaysia agree with this sentiment. In comparison, those least likely to agree are those in South Korea (17%), France (20%) Japan (23%) and Belgium (24%). 
When asked, half (52%) of us worry about old age globally and in Australia (51%).

When is old age, and what does it mean?

Globally, on average, we think old age begins at 66 and Australia is in line with this figure. The biggest determinant of what someone thinks of as being old is their own age; the older people get, the more likely they are to define ‘old’ as being something that happens later in life. To illustrate, those who are 16-24 believe old age begins at 61. This rises to 72 for those aged between 55-64.

When asked to select words to describe old age, the most commonly mentioned term is wise (35%). Next in line is frail (32%) followed by lonely (30%) and only a quarter saying respected (25%). Only 11% nominated the word happy.

Three in five (60%) agree that people don’t respect old people as much as they should and in Australia, that figure is similar at 61%. Agreement with this sentiment is highest in the LATAM countries and at the other end of the spectrum, only a quarter of those in Saudi Arabia agree with this, and a third of those in Japan.

Representation in the media

Opinion is polarised on how old people are depicted in the media. Only three in ten globally (31%) think that TV, film and advertising make old age seem exciting and full of potential while roughly the same proportion (29%) think that TV, film and advertising make old age seem depressing, with limited opportunities. Australians are more negative with 22% and 24% respectively agreeing with the statements.

Countries most positive about the representation of older people in the media include China (52%), Russia (44%) and India (43%)

Political power

Globally, only three in ten (29%) agree that old people have too much influence politically. On balance, people disagree with this sentiment (35%). However, there are some differences by age, with younger people more likely to think that old people do have too much influence politically. For instance, two in five (38%) of those aged 16-24 agree while only a quarter (27%) disagree.

In Australia, just 17% agree that old people have too much influence politically, while 43% disagree with that statement.

The potential for technology

Globally, we are techno-optimists; more than half (55%) agree that technological developments will improve old age for a lot of people. Only one in seven (14%) disagree. Australia was in line with the global average at 53% and 8% respectively.

There are, however, significant differences in agreement by country. Four in five (81%) people in China agree that technological developments will improve old age for a lot of people. People in Japan are least convinced about the potential for technological developments to improve old age for a lot of people.

Preparing for later life

Around the world, two thirds (64%) think that it is possible for people to prepare for old age so that they are healthier and better able to cope. In Australia, we are above the global average at 71%.

Globally, people have a clear idea of what we should be doing to prepare for later life. The most commonly mentioned responses are staying healthy by exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet (60% and 59% respectively). Saving enough money for an adequate pension is mentioned by half (51%) and avoiding smoking, having a good circle of friends, and having a sport or hobby they practice regularly are cited by over two in five (45%, 44% and 44% respectively).

However, there is a gap between what we know we should do to prepare for old age, and what we are doing. When asked what people are doing in order to prepare for old age the most popular answer globally is avoiding smoking, mentioned by more than two in five (45%). A similar proportion also mentions eating a healthy diet and avoiding too much alcohol (43% and 40% respectively). Less than three in ten (28%) mention saving enough money for an adequate pension.

Ipsos Australia Director, David Elliott, said: “While our ageing populations can be viewed as a key achievement, they also present society, business and brands with significant challenges.  Our research shows that, globally and in Australia, there is a lot of negativity towards later life and ageing, with financial and health concerns prevalent. Likely feeding into this negativity is some sense that the media does not do enough to portray later life positively. It is therefore, perhaps, little surprise that when describing those in old age, people commonly reach for terms like ‘frail’, ‘lonely’ and ‘unfairly treated’ along with ‘wise’.

“Our study does, however, show some reasons for optimism such as more people globally have faith in the power of technology to improve the lives of the elderly. There is also a belief that there are things that we can do to ensure we are prepared for old age – although there is a gap between what we know we should be doing, and what we are doing in practice.  Later life should be our golden years – but there is clearly much work to be done for this time in our life to be seen as such.

“In terms of the Australian findings we were in line with the global average on many measures.  One key stand out is that we are one of the least likely to believe it is the job of the young to care for ageing relatives.  This is not new or surprising.  Australia has traditionally sought out external aged care solutions for our ageing relatives, whereas many societies around the world view this as a family responsibility, with multiple generations sharing a home.  However, it does highlight the importance of a healthy, safe and respectful aged care system.  This is now clearly in focus for our society since the establishment of the Royal Commission into Aged Care on the 8th October 2018, following more than 5,000 submissions from aged care consumers, families, carers, aged care workers, health professionals and providers.”

It should be noted that fieldwork for this survey was conducted prior to the establishment of the royal commission.

Centre for Ageing Better Chief Executive, Anna Dixon, said: “There are tremendous opportunities that come from longer lives, yet just one in three people worldwide say they are looking forward to their old age. This is perhaps not surprising given the prevailing narrative across the globe is one of decline, frailty, ill health and loneliness. These negative experiences are not inevitable.  We must improve our workplaces, our housing, our health and our communities to enable more of us to age well. Changing our own and society’s attitudes to later life is an essential first step.”