Why is the language of ageing so ageist?

friends talking about ageist language

We’re all getting older, so why is it that when you pass a certain age bracket it’s OK to be insulted? Why is the language of ageing so ageist?

‘Codger’, ‘old fogey’, ‘biddy’, ‘bat’, ‘vulnerable’, ‘a burden’ – very few people aspire to be referred to by these terms. Yet, we as a society still use them widely to refer to older people, both in the media and everyday life.

As our recent report Doddery But Dear?: Examining Age-Related Stereotypes shows: “Metaphors such as ‘grey tsunami’, ‘demographic cliff’ and ‘demographic timebomb’ present old age in terms of crisis, reflecting a perception of old age and the ‘baby boomer’ generation as a societal burden and encouraging negative feelings toward the older population.”

Take Channel 4’s recent documentary series Lodgers for Codgers for example, which matches up young people to lodge with older people as a solution to the housing crisis. The show itself is based on a sound idea, similar to the Homeshare UK model, and the stories, outcomes and participants are heart-warming. It also highlights some real issues for both young and older generations: the housing crisis, unaffordability of the private rented sector and insecure and insufficient work and wages for young people. In addition, older people are finding themselves living alone with spare rooms and a desire to give back and make better use of their assets.

But that title… why? The older people taking part are all extremely independent, capable and in some cases quite feisty, so why use the term ‘codgers’? We get it. It rhymes and it’s attention-grabbing, but surely we need to move away from such outdated and prejudice words? Even more so as it appears, from watching a few of the episodes, that it’s the younger participants that are copping most of the flak.

The good news is that real Homeshare isn’t like it’s depicted in the show. It is respectful to all ages ‒ bringing generations closer together and helping them understand the positive and negative aspects of every stage of life. It’s not about age. It’s about meaningful relationships and friendship.

In Homeshare, older people offer a spare room to a younger person. Instead of paying rent, they offer their time, a friendly face around the house and helpful extra pair of hands. People of any age could benefit from a Homesharer ‒ offering a comfortable and safe home to someone who may not be able to afford rent or want to live in a crowded shared house with transient housemates and no social living space.

Language is constantly evolving and we are finding new and more acceptable ways to talk about groups with protected characteristics, which includes older people. Terms such as ‘third age’ are starting to be used more frequently, but until the mass media does more to adopt them they will never become the norm.

We would never use ‘codger’ or, for that matter, any derogatory word to describe people who benefit from Homeshare. We want to celebrate ageing. We are living longer than ever and health, wellbeing and opportunities are improving. No longer should growing old be considered the beginning of the end but more like the start of a new phase, one of more freedom, inspiring younger generations and being very much active and useful.

So let’s stop insulting older people, challenge stereotypes and celebrate ageing ‒ whatever your generation.


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