A recent study has found that those who say that they are victims of age discrimination are more likely to suffer from a range of physical and mental health problems.

The University College London study spoke to 7,731 over-50s in 2010 and 2011. Of these, 1,943 said that they had suffered age discrimination.

Six years later, the follow up study found that age discrimination could be associated with stroke, coronary heart disease, chronic lung disease, long-standing illnesses, and depression. To be precise:

  • 17 per cent of those who reported experiencing age discrimination said they had coronary heart disease, compared to 13 per cent of those who did report experiencing age discrimination.

  • 33 per cent and 39 per cent for long-standing illnesses

  • 38 per cent (no discrimination) and 44 per cent (discrimination) for arthritis

  • 12 per cent and 19 per cent for those dealing with depression

In trying to explain this, researchers suggest that age discrimination could lead to increased levels of cortisol and systemic inflammation. It is wideley accepted that stress has a negative effect on health.

The researchers also suggest that might also increase the likelihood of health risk behaviours, such as smoking, drinking too much and overeating (or eating badly). It may be that these are the actual cause of the health conditions and not the age discrimination itself, but acts of age discrimination start to put people on the path to ill health.

Another point made by the study is that the objective fact of whether or not someone has actually experienced age discrimination is largely irrelevant. This study was self reporting and it asked individual whether they thought they had experienced discrimination. What matters is the individual’s perception and their experience.

Discrimination can also promote intended and unintended unhealthy behaviours – either by acting as a barrier to healthy lifestyle (e.g, people might avoid the gym for fear of discrimination) or by leading people to engage in such behaviours as a means of coping with or escaping the negative affect that discrimination can evoke.
— Extract from the study