This year, the United Nations’ International Youth Day 2022 is focusing on ageism and fostering intergenerational solidarity. This year, the theme is all about breaking down generational barriers to work towards a more inclusive and understanding world.
What is International Youth Day?
In 1999, August 12th was declared International Youth Day. This means that every year, this day is a celebration of youth communities across the globe.
Every International Youth Day is assigned a different theme, which is usually informed by youth organisations and members of the UN Inter-Agency Network in Youth development. Ultimately this international day encourages young people across the world to raise awareness of youth activities and priorities in their area.
What is Ageism?
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines ageism as “the stereotypes (how we think), prejudice (how we feel) and discrimination (how we act) directed towards others or oneself, based on age.”
Ageism goes both ways, affecting both the younger and older generations, and as the UN points out, it “regularly intersects with other forms of bias (such as racism and sexism) and impacts people in ways that prevent them to reach their full potential and comprehensively contribute to their community.”
Ageism Against Young People
However, when we hear the word ‘ageism’, we often think of discrimination and prejudice against older generations.
"The Global Report on Ageism launched by the United Nations in March 2021 highlights the many data gaps that exist with regards to ageism against young people. Despite this lack of research, young people continue to report age-related barriers in various spheres of their lives such as employment, political participation, health and justice. On an individual level, these age-related obstacles can deeply impact wellbeing and livelihoods not only during the youth years, but also in adulthood. On a societal level, ageism prevents us from thinking and designing policies and social services that adopt a life-course approach and are fair for all ages.
It's important to note that ageism experienced by younger generations isn’t ‘new’ – as research points out, “similar complaints have been levied against relatively younger and older people for millennia. Indeed, generationalised beliefs about the inflexibility and “out of touch” nature of older generations, or the laziness, self-centeredness, and entitlement of younger generations, have repeated with remarkable consistency across recorded history.”
As noted in the Global Report on Ageism, these prejudices against younger generations can in fact have far-reaching consequences.
For example, a review into ageism directed towards younger populations found that “crimes committed by younger offenders elicited greater anger, were perceived to be more serious transgressions and considered to deserve more severe punishment than those committed by older offenders.”
Does Ageism Affect Care Experienced Young People?
It's possible to look at all of the research above in relation to our Trouble with the Law campaign. As part of this campaign's research, we found that:
- Care-experienced children make up 50% of those placed in youth custody
- They are at significant risk of criminal exploitation
- They are more likely than their peers who are not care-experienced to be involved with the criminal justice system.
Not only will these young people find themselves at risk of being stereotyped due to their age, but the label of ‘care-experienced’ also puts them at further risk of prejudice and even discrimination.
When it comes to employment, the Global Report on Ageism cites research involving 44,000 workers in 35 countries that found that among those employed, age discrimination peaked at the ages of 20 years and again at 59 years.
In addition, ageism towards younger people manifests more markedly once they become employed, particularly for young women, with a number reporting “belittling comments and being generally perceived as incompetent because they look young.”
Now couple this with our finding from our Trouble with the Law campaign that 75% of employers in the UK would discriminate against young people who disclose their criminal record at an early stage, and you can see how reality becomes even starker for care-experienced young people.
Beating Ageism Together
The three recommendations from the Global Report on Ageism include improving policy and law against ageism, creating educational interventions, and fostering intergenerational contact and solidarity.
Positive interaction between older and younger generations has been shown to be one of the most effective ways of reducing ageism against older people, and shows promising signs of doing the same for young people. Perhaps this sounds familiar? Our Independent Visitor service is a prime example of positive contact between younger and older generations, whether that age gap is only a few years or decades.
Open and non-judgemental interactions are a tried and tested way of combatting many kinds of prejudice and stereotypes, but the work to combat ageism goes both ways – both younger and older generations must be willing to call out and combat ageism. It’s also not something that can only be fixed on an international level, nor can the solution come solely from individuals. Everyone needs to work together to combat ageism.
How Can You Foster Intergenerational Solidarity?
Beyond showing compassion and practicing empathy, here is one thing each generation can do to better understand each other and combat ageism. Why not show these ideas to the adults in your life, as well as your friends?
Gen X and Older (Born 1965-1980): Try TikTok
We’re aware this might not be what older generations wanted to hear, but TikTok is the social media platform used by today’s youngest generations, Gen Z and Gen Alpha. From comedy skits to beauty tutorials to social justice education, TikTok has a wide range of uses, and you can use it to keep abreast of what’s important to youth.
The app is easy to use (and you can watch TikTok on the web too!) – it’s simply a never-ending stream of video after video you can scroll through. Eventually, the app learns what kind of videos you like, but here are some TikTok accounts you could follow if you’d like to stay informed and learn new things:
- Munya Chawawa @munyachawawa – known for his comedy songs about British politics, Munya often succinctly sums up how millennials and Gen Z feel about today’s social and political issues.
- Lucy Edwards @lucyedwards – Lucy uses her TikTok to educate others on what it’s like to be blind, often in a gently humorous way.
- Taylor Cassidy @taylorcassidyj – Taylor uses her platform to talk about Black history and debunk myths around racial inequality.
- The hashtag #LearnOnTikTok – You can even ‘follow’ hashtags on TikTok, so you can keep up to date on topics you’re interested in. (This is one of our favourites!)
Millenials and Younger (Born After 1981): Get to Grips With History
In the History curriculum, much focus has been placed on time periods like the Tudors and the Victorians. Whilst it’s important to study these, the curriculum has often glossed over more recent history.
Understanding what shaped and what drives the generations that came before us can be a great way to grow and learn, so we’ve gathered some books and documentaries to help you do just that:
- We Don’t Know Ourselves by Fintan O’Toole – a personal, historical account of Ireland and the difficulties faced by the generations since 1958.
- The Pinch by David Willetts – essential reading for younger and older generations alike, this book looks at the lives of the Baby Boomers and how their choices have affected the generations that have come since.
- Rule Nostalgia: A Backwards History of Britain by Hannah Rose Woods – cultural historian Woods takes us through 500 years of Britain’s past and the seduction of nostalgia.
- Challenger: The Final Flight on Netflix – this documentary on the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and the impact it had.
- Who Killed Malcom X? on Netflix – investigating the theories around the murder of the civil rights activist.