OLD AGE TALKS BACK: Is Singapore ageist?

Have you ever heard your boss say, “If our old staff does not make way for our young staff, our company cannot move forward”?

I have, from many different bosses.  I can understand it if I were in the armed forces which need to keep themselves young….but…….

Is this a sign of the times?  — A sign that the old age needs to sacrifice themselves for the young and ambitious by moving aside?

To me this is an ageist remark.


…pictures of old men and old women serving at Macdonald counters

and cleaning tables at food courts….images of senior citizens broadly smiling

and “enjoying life” looking after their grandchildren…



While it didn’t catch me by surprise because Singapore has always glorified youth (if you don’t believe me, just read how media reports highlight the youngest “whatever erm…or whoever” to move up the corporate ladder), it is nonetheless not a very nice feeling.

Yes, Singapore is ageist or at least sub-consciously so.  Look at the way we try to grant old age a little concession of respect: pictures of old men and old women serving at Macdonald counters or cleaning tables at food courts.  Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with old people working at these jobs – they are working hard and earning an honest living.  Or images of senior citizens smiling broadly and “enjoying life” looking after their grandchildren while the young parents look on with happy faces, most likely thinking about how they can now go back to work and push the older staff aside.  Of course, it is okay if the senior citizens really think that looking after grandchildren is true bliss but do all of us want this?  Think again….

What’s wrong is the way we are bombarded by these images.  Sub-consciously, we will very soon equate old age with cleaners and while this is a good example of how older workers can still be actively productive and useful, it is nonetheless a dismal picture of how old age should be.  Surely, it cannot be fair to stereotype post-war baby boomers, many of whom are well-educated and seriously quite capable at other jobs, in this way.  Media’s repeated image of senior citizens waiting at tables is creating a seriously disrespectful image.  Is the mass media saying that there is no hope for anything better than waiting at tables?  So is this the way, society would want to image the very people who toiled at making the bricks that built our prosperous society?  Do we want our young to believe that their good life is theirs because of their own smartness and capabilities and that they are doing good by giving menial jobs to their grandparents?

What about grandparents looking after their grandchildren?  Even if we are prepared to say that pesky and spoilt children are true bliss to babysit, are we signaling that this is the destiny of our aged?  What about old people who do not even have children of their own?  Are they supposed then to look after the children of their nephews and nieces or maybe relatives’ progeny?  Sorry, my personal view is that a white lie by telling the parents’ of ugly and spoilt children how adorable their brats are is my maximum frontier.  Having to look after them as surrogate parents is not what I envision as bliss.  I find showering love and care on pet cats and dogs more fulfilling.

Why does the media not promote more visibly, the fact that the mature workforce has its place among the young?  Although we do not want to be a second Japan where seniority is all and younger colleagues wait in line for age and experience to catch up so that they can be promoted, yet is there no wisdom at all in the Japanese way, in spite of the problems they encounter?  Does experience of age not count?  Does the stability of years not count?  Have we chosen youthful energy and creativity with their incumbent recklessness and arrogance over them?  Do we believe, like a leader in the workforce once told me – that all youthful leaders need are a good team with some mature members who are there to pick up the pieces and clear the sxxt left behind by youthful recklessness?

Why does the media not promote more visibly the importance of the role played by the mature workforce, not as history but as present tense?  Or is the media, unwittingly or willingly, co-partners and conspirators in this message to keep us focused on keeping the country young because they also think that it is the only way to survive as a country?  Is the media playing the role of Moses, the mouthpiece, in Animal Farm, telling the disgruntled and disillusioned to think of a better yonder?  Thank you very much….


You will also grow old one day.

It happens to the best of us.


Whatever it is, the way our society manages the problem of a swiftly ageing population, whilst good with creating more social and financial support, has forgotten one of the most important elements in ageing gracefully – keeping our pride.

So to the bosses who say, “If our old staff does not make way for our young staff, our company cannot move forward”, I would say think a little harder how not to let this come true because sadly speaking, you, yourselves are not spared a similar fate of life.  You will also grow old one day.  It happens to the best of us.



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