Chapter 1: Introduction

1.1 Background

The Australian population is expected to change significantly in the next 50 years. By 2056 it is estimated that around 25% of the Australian population will be 65 and over, while the proportion of younger Australians is expected to decline.*2

With this radical shift, challenges and opportunities will arise. These will require new ways of thinking to ensure all Australians have the ability to participate and contribute to their choice of paid work and community activities.

Currently, older Australians are underrepresented in paid work. Underemployment is often symptomatic of other forms of exclusion including participation in the community. Social exclusion and isolation, in turn, have significant impacts on physical and emotional wellbeing.

In many cases, it is negative attitudes about older people, and the resulting behaviours, which drive this exclusion. These attitudes and behaviours are a result of stereotypes which ignore the individual difference, the breadth of contribution and the rich diversity of older Australians.

This project, Age Positive: Promoting Positive and Diverse Portrayals of Older Australians, is funded by the Federal Government in response to recommendations made by the Advisory Panel on the Economic Potential of Senior Australians (the Panel). The main objectives of the Panel were to identify and respond to the economic and social opportunities presented by an older population.

In April 2012, the Federal Government committed funding*3 over four years to the Age Discrimination Commissioner to:

  1. conduct research on age discrimination, age stereotyping and ageism
  2. convene media roundtables and partner with the media to present more accurate, balanced and empowering portrayals of older Australians
  3. develop a community education and awareness campaign that identifies ageism and age discrimination and promotes positive images of ageing.

The aims of the Age Positive: Promoting Positive and Diverse Portrayals of Older Australians project are to:

  • expose prevailing stereotypes of older Australians and replace them with:
    • accurate, balanced, diverse and empowering portrayals of older people
    • portrayals that reflect the value, capability and experience of older people
  • raise awareness of age stereotyping and age discrimination in the Australian community
  • contribute to reshaping attitudes in the community to support older Australians to realise their potential and maximize their contribution to workplaces and the community.

This report presents the results of the first stage – research on age discrimination, age stereotyping and ageism.

1.2 Aims and objectives of this research

The specific aims of this research are to:

  • assess the prevalence and depth of stereotypes and negative attitudes towards older Australians
  • provide insight into the impact of these attitudes and the resulting behaviours on older Australians and the general community, including business decision makers
  • examine the portrayal, and invisibility, of older Australians in the media by all main media platforms including television, radio, magazines and digital
  • provide insight into the relative role of the media in creating and reinforcing age stereotyping and discrimination compared to other factors (such as broader community discrimination, family, friends, religion and education).

1.3 Methodology

The research was conducted using three integrated methodologies:

  • a media scan and qualitative analysis of the media
  • qualitative research – focus groups
  • quantitative research – online survey.

(a) Media scan and qualitative research

Broadcast media

A sample of coverage was drawn from the following highest rating and highest circulating programs and outlets:

Table 1: Broadcast media

Source type
Programs and outlets
Newspapers (all press includes weekend editions)
The Herald Sun
The Daily Telegraph
The Courier-Mail
Woman’s Day
Australian Women’s Weekly
Better Homes & Gardens
2GB Breakfast
3AW Breakfast
Today Tonight (Channel 7)
Seven News
Today (Channel 9)
Yahoo!7 News


Press, radio and television reports were sourced from even days throughout the calendar month of November 2012. Internet articles were gathered from 15 days spanning 18 December 2012 to 11 January 2013. For the purpose of this analysis, ‘older people’ included any individual or group aged 55 or more. Researchers manually audited the sample of programs and publications to identify whether or not an article included a reference to an older person.

Advertising scan

Outlets and programs sampled for the analysis of advertising were consistent with those sampled for the analysis of editorial content. Advertising content was collected from the target outlets for the periods of 5-11 November 2012 and 19-25 November 2012. For the purpose of this analysis, ‘older person’ included anyone aged 65 or over. Throughout the research, analysts identified a small number of advertisements that either targeted or included talent that could be from the 50-70 year old age range. These advertisements were included in the research.

Quantitative media scan

A quantitative editorial media scan was undertaken of Australian news and current affairs coverage mentioning older people and related themes in Australian media for the period 1 January-31 December 2012. Reports about older people were identified through keyword matching. Results are therefore indicative of actual results. This approach does not account for every single report, but is a method to examine the macro trends in Australian media coverage on older people in general. Within this coverage, more specific themes have been identified through searches for keywords and phrases.

Social Media Audit

A scan of Australian social media channels was conducted for discussion about older people. This analysis combines two approaches:

  • channel discovery to identify social media channels that focused on issues relating to older people
  • keyword searching to provide an indication of the frequency of keywords relating to older people in broader social media conversations.

(b) Qualitative research (focus groups)

Five focus groups were conducted in NSW and Victoria. Groups were conducted in professional viewing facilities in Sydney and Melbourne and in a conference facility in Albury. All groups were conducted in January 2013 and each group lasted up to two hours. Across all groups, a total of 42 participants took part in the research.

Questions were designed to understand behaviours and attitudes and guides were tailored to be reflective of the different experiences and attitudes that different age cohorts may possess or have experienced.

All participants for the focus groups were recruited using a professional recruitment firm. In consultation with the Commission, Urbis drafted a series of screening questions to ensure that appropriate participants were included in specific groups. All participants had either watched television, read newspapers/magazines or listened to the radio in the last month. Groups were comprised of close to 50/50 male and female participants.

To ensure that attitudes and behaviours could be understood from a variety of perspectives, four age cohorts were included in this study:

  • 18-25 years: 1 group in Sydney
  • 26-34 years: 1 group in Melbourne
  • 35-54 years: 1 group in Albury
  • 65+ years: 1 group in Sydney and 1 group in Albury.


(c) Quantitative research (online survey)

An online survey with community members and business representatives was conducted in February 2013. The online questionnaire approach was deemed the most appropriate given the broad focus of this study and the need for a nationally-representative sample. The sample also needed to be sufficiently large to understand sub-group differences in terms of gender, age, location, Indigenous status, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) status, income and household composition.

Respondents were drawn from a nationally-representative research-only online panel. Respondents are recruited to the panel using a variety of online and offline methods to reduce attitudinal bias. Hard quotas and post-weighting of the data was undertaken to ensure that the consumer results can be generalised to the Australian population as a whole. Respondents on the online panel are limited to participating in two studies in a year.

A total of 2,020 community respondents took part in the questionnaire. Hard quotas were set on gender and state to ensure that the sample was proportionate to the population on these key demographics. To ensure that the sample was representative of the population by age, data was post-weighted to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2011 census data for those aged 18-80 years in line with panel sample and representation. Table 2 provides the final raw sample proportions for key ages included in this study.

Table 2: Quantitative research sample

Sample n
Sample proportion
18 – 24
25 – 34
35 – 44
45 – 54
55 – 64


A total of 504 business respondents participated in the questionnaire. As with the consumer sample, business consumers were drawn from an online panel. All respondents were responsible for making decisions in the business, including recruitment, training, purchasing, financial management, contracting or policy decisions.

It is important to note that the business decision maker sample is senior in nature. Almost half (44%) of business respondents earn more than $100,000 per annum, and two-thirds (65%) of business decision makers have a university qualification.
A majority of respondents are in managerial/administrator roles or professional roles (68%), 13% are in clerical roles and a minority are in other roles within the business.

No hard quotas were set for the business sample and post-weighting of the data was not undertaken.