Ageism in Singapore

Posted by Laura Ng on

Ageism in Singapore

“It's paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn't appeal to anyone.” - Andy Rooney

Ageism refers to any type of age-based discrimination, whether it involves prejudice against children, teenagers, adults, or senior citizens. In this article, I will be focusing on the latter. When we stereotype or discriminate against older people on the basis of their age, they begin to internalise these negative perceptions. In fact, research has shown that there are tangible effects on the overall well-being of elderly, such as lower quality diet and exercise regimes, poorer memory and cognition, and even a median life expectancy that is 7.5 years shorter. We may not be fully conscious of how we think about and interact with seniors, but for them, ageism is an everyday challenge.

Ageism in the Workplace

In Singapore, older workers are less employable and exposed to less opportunities for career development. The negative bias against older workers extends to their social lives, as they may find themselves excluded from social activities.

Earlier this year, five employers were penalised for placing job advertisements that discriminated against age, or showed preference for a particular age group. On the other hand, companies such as Prudential have paved the way for more age-inclusive work environments by scrapping the notion of a retirement age altogether.

Did you know that older workers do not have more sickness-related absences from work than younger workers? Furthermore, fewer customer confrontations have been attributed to the presence of older workers, who tend to have better emotional control as well as crisis management and problem-solving capacity.

Ageism in the Media

Stereotypes about ageing are often perpetuated by the media as older characters tend to appear physically weak, mentally slow, disabled or helpless. Studies have shown that the more TV elderly watch, the worse they perceive themselves. Fear-based communications are also used to promote “anti-ageing” products and services, reinforcing the notion that ageing is undesirable and unflattering.

It is important to be mindful of the ways that the media might dishonour the ageing process. It is not a problem to be fixed or a disease to be cured, but a natural process that does not devalue seniors in any way. 

Effects of Ageism

The marginalisation of older people limits their freedom to live the lives they choose, and reduces opportunities to capitalise on the lifelong experiences they have. It diminishes their sense of agency in condescending generalisations that assume vulnerability and dependence instead of resilience and independence.

Ageism also serves as a social divider between young and old. Generational gaps become more salient, as our unwillingness to understand the viewpoints of others is highlighted. This is accentuated by terms like ‘OK boomer’ or ‘millennial” - the former serving as a collective eye roll at the out-of-touch, close-minded opinions of the older generation about the younger generation and the latter being an insult or rejection of the younger generation who are commonly perceived as entitled of narcissistic. Our tendency to label one another results in the lack of open conversations.

How to Deal with Ageism

We should be careful not to group people by age and reduce them to a homogeneous group. When approaching the elderly, we should imagine them as our future selves, and rather than recoil from their wrinkles or infirmities, applaud their resilience. When we re-humanise older people and engage them in productive activities across familial, communal, and societal domains, we help them live happier, healthier lives.


Click here for a TED talk about ageism:



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