Press release

Publication of DWP Research Report 735 Predictors of attitudes to age across Europe

Differences between individuals and countries in the European region on people’s attitudes toward old age and on their experience of ageism.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Research published today examines the interaction of differences between individuals and differences between countries in the European region (28 countries) on people’s attitudes toward old age (i.e. beyond the age of 70), and on their experiences of ageism.

The research explores how people’s age and other demographics combine with different characteristics of the countries in which they dwell to affect responses to 13 measures that include some of the following:

  • Age categorisation and identification;
  • Perceived status of people over 70;
  • Perceived threat from people over 70;
  • Perceptions of stereotypes of people aged over 70;
  • How positively or negatively people feel towards those aged over 70 (direct prejudice); and
  • People’s experiences of ageist prejudice against themselves.

Understanding both the individual and the structural (‘country-level’) factors that influence these measures can help us to predict and understand where problems of ageism or age misperception are most likely to arise.

Key Findings:

  • Regardless of their own age, respondents in countries with a higher proportion of older people were more positive, suggesting that societal attitudes shift as a population ages. Older people’s status was perceived to be higher in countries that had later state pension ages.
  • Age discrimination was personally experienced by about one third of all respondents, with the UK placed just below the average for all ESS countries. Across all ESS countries just under half of the respondents, including those from the UK, regarded age discrimination to be a serious of very serious issue.
  • Age discrimination was affected by a variety of individual characteristics: with ageism being experienced more by younger people, those who were less well educated, felt poorer, were not in paid employment or were living in urban areas.
  • Across all ESS countries the stereotypes of older people as friendly and competent were consistently affected by age, education and residential area, with the UK placed above average for friendliness and below average for competence for all ESS countries. The gap between these two stereotypes is therefore notably larger in the UK. At the country-level, countries with higher unemployment rates and a lower proportion of people aged over 65, stereotyped older people as less competent.
  • At the country-level older people being seen as a threat to the economy was influenced by economy-related characteristics, whereas, older people being seen as a threat to health services was affected by state pension age for men, i.e. a policy-related variable.

Notes to Editors:

  • DWP Research Report Series (Number 737) ‘Predictors of Attitudes to Age Across Europe’ can be found at:
  • The authors are Dominic Abrams, Christin-Melanie Vauclair and Hannah Swift from the Centre for the Study of Group Processes, Department of Psychology, University of Kent.
  • The research for this report was conducted using European Social Survey (ESS) 2008/09 data, which provides representative samples from 28 countries belonging to the European region. The survey methodology was based on computer-based personal interviews (CAPI), with samples of between 1215 and 2576 people aged 15 years and over in 2008 or 2009.
Published 17 May 2011