It is wrong and unfair to denigrate older people because of the EU Referendum result

The conclusion of the EU referendum, with its relatively slender majority for Leave, has been warmly welcomed by those who campaigned for a ‘Brexit’ but generated shock and dismay on the part of many fervent Remainers and in some instances real anger too. Such emotions are  understandable, given the huge potential ramifications of the decision to leave the EU, about which we will no doubt be hearing a lot more in the days and weeks to come.

What is less legitimate and frankly much less excusable, in my opinion, is when these outpourings descend into denigration of those who are presumed to be ‘to blame’. I am referring, as you may guess, to that whole class of our fellow citizens who have been described over recent days, not only in social media but also in some opinion pieces in the broadsheets, as ‘elderly’, ‘baby boomers’ or, in one case ‘wrinkly bastards’.

What is the evidence here?

An analysis of the age breakdown of voters for Leave and Remain from on the day opinion data certainly shows a definite age gradient:

BBC chart

However, this graph also shows that it wasn’t by any means only ‘older people’ who voted by a majority for Leave: in the 45-54 age group there was a clear majority among the voters for Leave and even in the younger cohort of 35-44s the numbers voting for and against staying in the EU were not all that different.

You could in fact argue that the key shift occurred in the 45-54 age group: from this age group and beyond to much older people there was an increasingly pronounced majority among voters for Leave. So a more accurate description of what happened might be that among those who voted, most young adults voted for Remain while most of their parents and grandparents (and their great grand parents too) voted for Leave.

An additional consideration that needs to be taken into account in understanding the impact of age on the result is turnout, as this information from Sky Data shows:

Sky chart

The pattern is consistent and clear: more than four in five people aged over 65 voted in the Referendum, compared to little more than one in three who voted in the youngest group eligible to do so.

Other important factors that explained the result  

However, information presented by the Financial Times this weekend shows that age combined with turnout were not the only factors that explain the eventual result – indeed they suggest that they were not the principal factors at all.

Instead, as the Financial Times’ article explains, “of more than 100 key social characteristics, the percentage of people with a degree was the most strongly associated with the share of voters who voted Remain. Unsurprisingly, the proportion of people in jobs classified as “professional occupations” — generally requiring a degree equivalent qualification — was the next strongest.”

As you may be aware, far fewer of today’s older people had the chance to go to university compared to younger age groups.

The third strongest explanatory factor cited by the Financial Times was ‘not holding a passport’. This correlation might be due to a number of reasons, including age, but the Financial Times ascribes this primarily to ’cultural attitudes’. They draw on previous research they have carried out into voting patterns around the London Mayoralty to substantiate this interpretation.

The fourth best indicator from the Financial Times’ analysis of the data was income, in that they say that “areas with higher median incomes tended to lean Remain, whilst lower incomes leaned Leave”.

Age and turnout come in fifth: of some significance for sure, but not the most important by any means.

In practice, of course, all these factors – class, income, identity, geography and age – and no doubt many more, interacted to produce the results we saw rolling in through last Thursday night, to varying degrees and with differential impacts across the whole of the UK. They led, for example, to Scotland and London voting in favour of Remain, along with Oxford and Cambridge, but to great swathes of the Midlands and the North of England (with the exception of some of the major cities) voting to Leave.

Not jumping to conclusions 

So those who have leapt to the conclusion that the Referendum was a simple matter of ‘Old Versus Young’ are just plain wrong. It was a lot more complicated than that and, apart from anything else, to suggest otherwise overlooks the impact on the final result of the more than 1 in 4 under 25s who voted to Leave, and of the 2 in 5 over-65s who voted to Remain.

In other words, large numbers of individual men and women voted in ways that entirely refute the stereotypes being painted of their age groups and surely that should not come to any of us as a surprise. In this instance, as in almost all instances in my view, to see the world through a one dimensional ‘Old versus Young’ prism is misleading and unfair, and something that ultimately diminishes us all.

Read advice for older people following the UK’s vote to leave the EU 


29 thoughts on “It is wrong and unfair to denigrate older people because of the EU Referendum result”

    1. It’s not just Cameron . It’s the politicians!
      The referendum was a c*ckup by both sides. The leave mob = oppostion are scaremongering , NHS getting £350 million and immigrants. The remain mob – dire financial warnings , nothing about the E101 card, working time and other benefiits. What have our polictical leaders done re the result ? Resign! Did the Cabinet have an exit plan & evaluate the cost of Brexit? Or did any of the competing factions? No!

  1. It certainly is not fair to denigrate anyone, but equally, it is not unreasonable to expect older folk to bear some of the burden if the UK falls into a deep recession as a result of the Brexit vote.

    What is unfair is a series of generations whose birth per woman has remained below two since 1974, which coupled with increases in life spans means that the UK population has been declining long term. A European trend for many years.

    As a result, immigration into the UK has been a necessity in particular in respect of elderly care and one that began in 1997.

    The question, is whether older folk would have voted in the same way in the Brexit referendum had they been provided with truthful and reliable information – and in particular in respect of the immigration issue.

    In this respect one can only blame distortions of government.

  2. Using the words ‘blame’ rather than ‘congratulate’ accepts that it was a bad idea to get out 🙂
    One of the main differences between old and young has got to be access to social media . With it you will see all view points being argued . Without it you see only what the press and TV choose to show you.
    If your only source was a certain newspaper you would be delivered up a very one sided case with only one way to vote.
    I think the press may have a lot to answer for in the result. I can not see how Farage was given so much publicity. He has just one MP and controls no councils although he does have 450 councilors. Plus a lot of his stuff was not so much arguing the case but of publishing propaganda to influence a result

  3. Thank you for this helpful analysis. A big takeaway for me was seeing the information on how different age groups voted and the information on turnout together. By my calculations, they show that approx 26% of total people ages 18-24 voted to remain (most did not vote at all) compared to 33% of total voters 65+. Quite apart from the case you make for the myriad of factors that went into the final result, this should give us all pause. As a society, we need to work on how we can get a higher percentage of people, especially young people, engaged in the political process and voting. Maybe not a job for AgeUK, but an important job for someone.

  4. The blame fraternity are not only ignorant and ageist, they are also ‘undemocratic!’ We are supposed to be a Democratic country, ( we actually are not, we are a two party state just like USA. Different meat, same poison.
    The EU used to be called The Common Market, most older people will remember that, it was supposedly set up for better and easier free trading, but that was just a ‘cover’. it was always going to morph into a Fascist Superpower. The youngsters of today, weren’t even born when the Common Market was commenced, all they have known really is the EU. They have been schooled into Miltons Freetrade thinking and globalisation. The corporations that support and enable this undemocratic, EU dictatorship, have made the youths friends. Nike, Microsoft, etc etc., are the commodities that the global corporations have fed the young with, the young cannot do without, their designer trainers and their
    Apples etc., but all this would come at a high price.
    I’m not talking about the cost of a pair of expensive trainers, I’m talking about the ‘real’ cost of a globalised, dictatorial, fascist government. Where freedom is getting rarer and rarer.
    If the young want to trade democracy for Hitlers dream of a united Europe, mascarading as a democratic love everyone’s country idealism, when as I said it’s just a controlling communist superpower. They need to be de educated. Sadly, we have all been duped! Especially the older folks who suffered terribly in a world war, WW2. They fought long and hard for freedom from Nazi invasion, some fought and died, some were blown to smithereens.
    The graveyards are full of dead British soldiers etc.,
    Now 70 years later, the young who voted ‘IN’ are throwing their freedom away to the European beast of tyranny and their demise. And that’s what’s so ironic.

    1. Make your mind up – is it fascist or communist? You realise those are opposites right? When you throw words around like communist, fascist, Nazi and Hitler every other word to the point where they lose all meaning you make your entire argument look invalid. Like the ramblings of an angry child. Look up “Godwin’s law”. Or just look up anything about what life was actually like in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia and think how it actually compares to your life under the “fascist” EU. Ironically one difference is that you wouldn’t be able to make that rant if the EU was anything approaching Fascist.

      The reality is I nearly lost my job due to brexit. I know countless people whose futures are in jeopardy. People might be kicked out who are contributing far far more to our economy and also separating families and friends – a lot of people are terrified. Our economy is plunging. The pound is worth nothing. Businesses are moving out. Prices in supermarkets are shooting up. Our human rights are under threat. The NHS is under threat .

      In general my life, and the life of most of the people I know is in the process of becoming much much harder. So yes, I am going to continue to “blame” those idiots who voted leave. The biggest disaster to befall our nation since the war and it’s all because people like you believe everything you read in the Daily Mail. It’s the Daily Mail who spews these bull***t words “fascist” etc. and claims immigrants get everything when they never have so when I see someone use these words every other word my initial reaction is not that this is a reasoned argument but this is someone who can’t tell fact from Daily Mail.

  5. The denigration referred to is abusive as such it is a hate crime as age is a protected factor. We have heard a lot about this re race but the horrible name calling referred to in this blog has received no publicity. Come on AGE UK make more noise – recognise the horrific force of ageism and make as much fuss as other ‘protected’ groups.

  6. I guess ( and I might be wrong!) that once Caroline’s draft blog went through the corporate PR machinery it was toned down. Nevertheless it’s main message was balanced and captured the essance of certainly some of my concerns
    It was a shame it took AgeUK so long to give a response and have noted that a subsequent formal Statement followed.

    The comment from Stephanie Wilson goes to the root of my angst- namely the Charity should, in being balanced ( ref facts) not shy away from expressing the emotional consequences of much ageist and hateful attitudes towards the older generations that followed the result. The personal impact on us as individuals and our sense and security of belonging and being valued requires a more forthright confrontation of ageism and hate. I would have liked to have seen it under the name of the Charity’s CEO. That is not a reflection at all on Caroline, whom I have the utmost respect, but more the absence of firm and forthright leadership from Tom which would have been welcomed.

    As again Stephanie points out, the blog did not as far as I could tell, get any attention from the very media that printed, even promoted ageist and hateful narratives that fed the increasing disconnect and conflict between the generations.

  7. We make clear whenever and wherever we can that ageism is always completely unacceptable and that it has no place in our society.

    We decided that the best way to tackle the social media criticism of older people in the aftermath of the EU Referendum was to establish the facts and use a blog to explain that most of the things being said were just plain wrong, as well as objectionable and sometimes highly offensive. We are pleased that the blog has been quite widely disseminated and we will certainly be following it up and doing more on this theme in the weeks and months to come.

    We did a national radio interview earlier this week and we have contributed to a newspaper article on the subject. If more media opportunities arise we will take them.

  8. Well done, Caroline, for putting forward such a carefully worded and measured response to what is a terrible slight on older people and has created such bitterness and misunderstandings all round. I would be interested in your views, however, on what the lessons are that we can learn for the future. I say this because I felt there was such a lot of misinformation given out to us all and political spin pushed upon us all, that many were not able to make an informed judgement in a democratic sense, and some now regret what has happened. How do we ensure proper debate and measured discussion with facts and knowledge informing the debate and voting?
    It looks like we should have had you providing balanced comments for Age UK ahead of the Referendum instead of the politicians?

  9. I am 77 and voted to remain in the EU. But then I am an Oxford Modern Languages graduate. Most of my ffriends (about the same age) also voted to remain. I think that the polarisation of the vote was more to do with education or lack of it than age.

  10. Sir, the elderly will not be affected by us leaving the EU. Older people have massive experience of life. They don’t live on stupid assumptions, assumptions are only used by people who have no facts or previous experience. When you have lived through life you can see the foolishness of those still on the pathway. When facts are known through experience assumptions are pointless. The elderly have often been through wartime conditions they know how to live and conserve. They sit back and smile at the headless chickens running around in circles. England will not go down in fact it will shake those little England’s who shouted ‘Remain’. We will once again get Great Britian back. Everything takes it’s own time to work out.
    But patient it will happen.

  11. i am astonished that the blog does not address the major demographic problems that will result. I am an older person but I still work and commission services for older people .
    This seems a very simplistic news item. I find it patronising and one sided.
    As you are aware the demographic profile of this country has changed significantly over the last 60 years due to the success of the welfare state and NHS. We have more severely disabled people, frail elderly and people with serious long term health conditions then we have ever had in the past. This is going to increase.
    This country has an ageing population which we are failing to support as we do not have enough young people so in London we are heavily reliant on immigrants to do this work.
    Many care providers are facing closure already due to financial pressure so if services close things will be worse. I work with a number of care homes who cannot attract English speaking nurses and care workers who are actively encouraging new immigrants to work for them and provide English lessons while working. This is undertaken at the care homes expense. This is the only way they can assure sufficient qualified staff are available to meet the service demand.

    The over-65 population in the London borough where I work grew by 1,800 between 2012 and 2015. The greatest rise was in the 90 and over age group with an increase of 23%. By 2020 it is estimated that the size of the over 65 age group will increase by 17%. Population projections for the next 15 years from the ONS show that the local population aged over 65 will grow by 48% from 39,300 to 58,000. The greatest percentage rise is in the 90 and over age group with a predicted increase of 121% or 2,300 persons. This increase will require an expansion in age appropriate health, housing and social care services as they are more likely than any other group to require extra support putting pressure on services as currently configured.

    There are currently 13,000 older people in this borough who cannot manage at least one self-care activity; this figure is predicted to rise to 14,750 (19.4%) by 2020.

    There are an estimated 2,800 older people with dementia in the borough. The number is predicted to rise to 4,350 by 2030. National prevalence data also predicts that there are in the region of 70 people with working age dementia in the borough , however data from local support services would suggest that the actual number is considerably higher.

    Sensory impairment disproportionately affects older people. In March 2014, 490 people over 65 were registered as blind and 265 people registered as partially sighted. There were also 90 people over 65 registered as deaf and 435 people registered as hard of hearing. This will be a growing issue in the future.

    In 2015/16 there were 4870 people over 65 receiving support for adult social care.

    However there is a shortage in the number of care homes able to effectively look after people with challenging behaviour and complex needs.

    The demand for home care is increasing. In 2015/16 home care agencies provided more than 2,600,000 hours to more than 3000 customers. 81% of homecare services are commissioned for people over 65 years of age. There was a 40% increase in demand over the last year and the care agencies did not have the capacity to meet this level of increase. With 60% of the local care homes and home care agencies dependent on immigrants to meet their staffing level to meet the demand for care .

    Although the Council is working closely with care agencies to try to build capacity across all categories of care we are heavily dependent on immigrants providing this care . If we fail to make this country attractive to younger immigrants to work in how are we going to meet the increasing need of the ageing population?

    To me it looks as if a lot of very selfish people do not recognise that the county we live in now is very different to 40 years ago and we may not be able to care for those who need care. For the first time in my life I am ashamed of the country I live in and the decision that more than half the electorate made. People of my age who failed to care enough about the frailer members of our society.

    1. So you are saying brexit is selfishness because you want to stop trade treaties like TTIP and CETA that will prevent your government from having funds for care in the first place? If corporations can sue governments under the EU treaties then where is the money for care going to come from let alone the continual driving down of wages with companies taking advantage of a huge labour force? The selfishness comes from the government planning of care in the first place. If they centralized it again it would cut costs instead of farming it out to private companies who are only interested in profits. Also the idea all brexiters are stupid is yet again promoted on these holier than thou websites -personally I have two degrees and I am firmly behind brexit.

  12. Thank you for this article. Many of our friends well into their 80’s were really saddened by the result. They feel that a united Europe held the peace, yes it was not perfect but then what is?
    The number of people needed to do trade deals will probably cost much of what is ‘saved’ by leaving.
    65+ has a much larger range than the other groups. Some lived in the midst of war on the doorstep others in the group were too young. This may be an influence but blame is a dangerous game.
    The real victim seems to have been truth. We need better education to be more politically aware. We cannot go to a past life, the world has moved on.
    We cannot fly to the future on wishes and assumptions.
    It will need great faith to trust and unite. We are so enmeshed as Europeans as members of a family that like any divorce there will be damage but with goodwill that I trust this will heal.

  13. No wonder we voted leave when we have ignorant people talking about the EU as a ‘Fascist Superpower’. Please look up a definition of fascism and explain how you arrived at this utterly wrong description. I am 70 years old and ashamed of the xenophobia, racism and cultural isolationism shown by many people of my age group.

  14. The reason the younger generations do not like the result is they are all cowards, because they listened too, and believed Cameron’s comment about there being a Third World War, if we leave the EU. Also there’s the reports of Family’s of service personnel trying to get compensation for their loved one’s demise, but it’s a sad fact that when you join-up you promise to protect and defend your Sovereign and Country with your life if need’s be.

  15. An interesting statistic; I saw in a similar analysis last week to the effect that in the 18-24 age group 20% of people eligible to register didn’t bother to do so.
    The Leave vote was essentially an anti-Cameron vote by people reduced to poverty by austerity. Had Cameron campaigned to leave, as was his natural inclination, Remain would have won.
    Which leads to the question, was the whole thing a set-up, with a hidden agenda for the Tories.

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  17. How dare the youngsters of this country say because we are over sixty we dont matter it shows how immature the young people of this country are and how selfish they think they will never be older the older generation has got more sence than all of them put together its a referendam you lost get over it

  18. In response to Jean Andrews comments about education levels, as an Engineering degree holder and retired Senior Manager of a multinational company and also in my 70,s. I voted leave as did the majority of my friends.

  19. Most older people remember the welfare state coming into being after the war,the reason why there are so many baby boomers around (l am one of them born 1946)is because after the war the great loss of life meant the government wanted more babies born,so to encourage this family allowance was paid,note it was not paid for the first child only the second and subsequent children,now the babies that the government wanted born are old farts,well you can’t have it both ways?and yes the EU super state was not the common market l joined!l am glad we left as today it resembles George Orwells 1984,so to the young l say we did it for you and your future even if you do not see that now you will?with age comes wisdom.
    Valerie B

  20. What I find more worrying is that it seems the people behind this charity are not speaking out loudly enough against the very real fascism towards older people in the press and media just because it sounds like they supported remain. This is not the time to allow your political choices to get in the way of fascism and hate speech -what I have read about media commentators on front page articles of national papers saying pensioners should be stripped of their voting rights and even pensions is nothing short of reminders of the same fascism towards Jewish people before the Holocaust -it is very worrying it really is and someone has to stop this hate speech in our societies.

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