Diversity and Marginalization: The Issue

Negative stereotyping of older adults fosters and promotes age discrimination and perpetuates ageist attitudes. Ageism may affect the priority given to seniors’ needs (including how they are defined and addressed) by those funding, designing and delivering health and social services (Estes, 2001).

Seniors who are part of marginalized groups may experience over-lapping stigma. For example, a senior who is gay and First Nations may experience homophobia and racism along with ageism. Additionally, there is a significant stigma attached to mental health problem and illness that can further contribute to poor mental health. This stigma is apparent in the inequitable allocation of medical and non-medical resources for older adults with mental illness and addictions in comparison to other illnesses such as diabetes and cancer

Seniors are Becoming a More Diverse Group

  • Most seniors under age 75 live with their spouses, independently in their own homes. But most people aged 80 and older are women, more than half of whom live alone. The majority of these older women living alone are poor.
  • Six per cent of seniors belong to visible minority groups, compared to 13 per cent of persons under age 45. Over the next two decades, the number of seniors who are members of visible minority groups is likely to increase, due to changing immigration patterns.
  • Only one of every 25 Aboriginal persons is a senior, while one of every eight non-Aboriginal persons is a senior.

Visible Minorities in Canada

Downloaded January 2009 from the Public Health Agency of Canada Aging and Seniors website.

People’s choices about where they obtain services or prefer to shop are influenced by their level of education, their age, their living arrangements and their cultural background, as well as their capacities and interests. With such diversity, it follows that older Canadians want to be able to choose from a range of information sources about businesses, services and government programs. Studies of seniors’ information preferences and habits will help you pinpoint the medium best suited to the audience segment you want to reach.7

The varying life experiences and personal characteristics of seniors means that they also hold a range of values, beliefs and opinions. The world view of someone who grew up or started raising a family during the Depression is bound to be different from that of someone raised in the 1950s or of the "babyboomers." Access to education has also varied greatly in this century. Place of residence (urban or rural), socio-economic status, national origin or ethnicity, and gender all contribute to the diversity of the senior population.

Tailoring messages for a senior audience therefore means recognizing that seniors may hold different views – different from each other and from you – about these and other issues:

  • what constitutes "the good life," "quality," and "service"
  • attitudes toward authority or bureaucracy
  • degree of comfort in asking someone else for help
  • perceptions of health and illness
  • attitudes toward disability
  • ideas about food and nutrition
  • concepts of age and aging
  • male/female roles
  • family and intergenerational relationships
  • what government is and what it does or should do
  • what health and social services are and how they work

Retrieved January 2009 from Public Health Agency of Canada website.