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Stereotypes and negative attitudes

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Stereotypes about aging and the abilities of older persons may give rise to discriminatory treatment.  For some, aging is associated with dependence and frailty and older persons are seen as a drain on employers, families, service providers and governments[25]. The fact that t the proportion of seniors is increasing, combined with numerous studies and articles which discuss the potential strain on younger generations of supporting the aging population[26], creates a risk of even greater prejudice against older persons.  As the newsletters of the National Advisory Council on Aging note, public discussion of population aging often focuses on aging as a problem with negative consequences to society[27].

A common problem for older persons in Western society is that of being judged incompetent or inappropriate to carry out tasks purely on the basis of age.  There is a perception that older persons are unable to learn new things.[28]

In our society, there is a tendency to want to compartmentalize the aging process and draw bright-line distinctions between age groups[29]. The clearest example of this is the phenomenon of turning 65.  The individual wakes up on the morning of her birthday to find that she can be forced to retire from employment and has, in the eyes of society, assumed the status of an ‘old’ person and a ‘pensioner’, with all of the associated prejudices.  This bright-line, categorical approach has been criticized for its arbitrariness and its failure to recognize that we will not all be equally situated physically, mentally and financially when we reach 65[30]. As the statistics show, seniors are not a homogeneous group and treating older Canadians as such is not appropriate. Unfortunately, this generalization is entrenched in the Code itself with respect to the fact that workers over 65 do not have the right to file a claim of age discrimination.[31] The suggested prohibition against generalization applies not just to stereotypical attitudes about older persons, but also to legitimate policies and programs designed to meet the needs of the aging population.

[25] “Senior Friendly Communities” Expression: Newsletter of the National Advisory Council on Aging, vol. 13 no. 1 (Autumn 1999), online:  Health Canada <>.
[26] For example, a headline of a C.D. Howe Institute Communiqué states: “Younger Canadians pay more tax, receive fewer benefits, than older generations, says C.D. Howe Institute Study”.   This study cites empirical evidence, but sends a message about older persons being a drain on the system rather than making a point that is essentially generational.
[27] “Celebrating Seniors’ Contributions” Expression: Newsletter of the National Advisory Council on Aging, vol. 12 no. 2 (Winter 1998), supra note 25.
[28] From “Age and retirement – educating the public sector” in TIROHIA, Quarterly Newsletter of the New Zealand Human Rights Commission, Komihana Tikanga Tangata (April 1999) at 9.
[29] C. Ford, “Bright Lines: Status, Recognition and the Elusive Nature of Ageing” (1996) 2 Appeal: Review of Current Law and Law Reform 4 at para. 2, online: QL (JOUR).
[30] Ibid. at para. 3.
[31] Section 10. 


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