Britain has one of the worst records in Europe on age discrimination, with nearly two out of five people claiming to have been shown a lack of respect because of how old they are.
Only Russia, Ukraine, Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have more people who feel they have been ignored or patronised because of ageism.
This portrait of a divided country comes from the European Social Survey, a major piece of research taking into account the attitudes of 55,000 people across 28 countries, which every two years charts beliefs and behaviour.
The UK is also riven by intergenerational splits, with half of us admitting we do not have a single friend over 70. Only a third of Portuguese, Swiss and Germans say that they do not have a friend of that age or older.
The survey's latest findings in fields as diverse as work, religion, politics and relationships is still being analysed by academics, but a snapshot from the statistics shows that the UK has more people who would describe themselves as extremely happy than France, Belgium and Spain, but also more people who are extremely unhappy than the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.
There are more people in the UK who would describe their health as extremely bad than there are in France, Sweden and Denmark, but also considerably more respondents who say their health is very good than anywhere other than Switzerland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
Yet a comprehensive analysis of results from the last round of data (collected in 2009) has now been published and the conclusions are clear. In the UK, 64% of people believe ageism is a serious problem, compared with 44% for Europe as a whole. Only in France, where 68% of people believe age discrimination is a very serious or quite serious problem, are the figures more worrying.
And the statistics show that, while there is admiration for the elderly, more people pity than envy those they regard as old, suggesting a perception that age brings weakness and unhappiness.
"Even on the perception of when old age starts, the UK is the worst in Europe in a way," said Nicola Robinson from Age UK, who helped to analyse the data for 2009. "Britons thought old age started at 59, whereas in Greece they thought it started at around 68. There is a similar question about when youth ends. The UK thought that was 35, while in Greece they thought it was 52."
But all is not lost, she added: "The statistic about worries around ageism could be worse in the UK because it could suggest we are simply more aware of it."
Professor Dominic Abrams, from the school of psychology at Kent University, agrees. "People in this country may feel there is a serious problem and be aware of discrimination because they are attuned to it," he said. "We know it is a serious problem across Europe and it may be that we are ahead of the curve on the issue, that there has been some successful awareness-raising.
"That said, the statistics on intergenerational friendship show that we are a segregated society and there are definitely problems here.
"There is a segregation within work and social lives. The social spaces in the UK are generational specific, so people don't do things together.
"Generally, those in their 20s don't have contact outside the family with people in their 70s. In places like Cyprus or Portugal there are spaces, squares or bars where people of all ages mix. Ageism is a problem and it does need to be explored."
Article from The Guardian