Cook, P and Curryer, C and Banks, S and Omori, M and Mallon, A, Ageism and risk in COVID-19, A Climate for Change in Ageing (53rd AAG Conference) Prorgamme, 18-20 November 2020, online (2020) [Conference Extract]
The sudden infectious spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in late 2019 and early 2020 has generated numerous framings in media and politics that connect health, risk, body, and age. In this article, we explore how COVID-19 has served to perpetuate and reinforce ageism towards ageing and older peoples through ambiguities of how risk is conceptualised. By drawing on select examples of the news media (particularly from the United States, United Kingdom and Australia), we explore and illustrate how conceptualisations of risk have been used to place younger and older people in an often oppositional relationship. As such, younger people are often cast as healthy, active agents: they are risky bodies engaging in behaviours that jeopardise their health and that of others. These discourses have also been applied to the ‘baby boomers’, while simultaneously framing older peoples as passive and weak: ‘the vulnerable elderly’ who are bodies at risk. As such, a simplistic connection is created between older age and perceived frailty and ill-health, reducing older age to a medical and health problem, and perpetuating social marginalisation. Thus, younger and older peoples have been homogenised as risk takers (bodies at risk) and risk makers (risky bodies) respectively. Our theoretical examination reveals how ageist language positions younger people as selfish, agentic risk carriers that sit in opposition to the passive and selfish ‘frail, vulnerable elderly’ - who put others at risk. We argue that such ageism propagates social divisions and ‘othering’, and influences risk-related responses and strategies.