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Ageism, also spelled agism, is
While the term is also used in regards to prejudice and discrimination against
Ageism in common parlance and age studies usually refers to negative discriminatory practices against old people, people in their middle years, teenagers and children. There are several forms of age-related bias.
Based on a conceptual analysis of ageism, a new definition of ageism was introduced by Iversen, Larsen, & Solem in 2009. This definition constitutes the foundation for higher reliability and validity in future research about ageism and its complexity offers a new way of systemizing theories on ageism: "Ageism is defined as negative or positive stereotypes, prejudice and/or discrimination against (or to the advantage of) elderly people on the basis of their chronological age or on the basis of a perception of them as being 'old' or 'elderly'. Ageism can be implicit or explicit and can be expressed on a micro-, meso- or macro-level" (Iversen, Larsen & Solem, 2009).
Other conditions of fear or aversion associated with age groups have their own names, particularly: paedophobia, the fear of infants and children; ephebiphobia, the fear of youth, sometimes also referred to as an irrational fear of adolescents or a prejudice against teenagers; and
Managers have been accused, by Erdman Palmore, as stereotyping older workers as being resistant to change, not creative, cautious, slow to make judgments, lower in physical capacity, uninterested in technological change, and difficult to train. Another example is when people are rude to children because of their high pitched voice, even if they are kind and courteous. A review of the research literature related to age stereotypes in the workplace was recently published in the Journal of Management.
Contrary to common and more obvious forms of stereotyping, such as racism and sexism, ageism is more resistant to change. For instance, if a child believes in an ageist idea against the elderly, fewer people correct them, and, as a result, individuals grow up believing in ageist ideas, even elders themselves. In other words, ageism can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Ageist beliefs against the elderly are commonplace in today's society. For example, an older person who forgets something could be quick to call it a "senior moment," failing to realize the ageism of that statement. People also often utter ageist phrases such as "dirty old man" or "second childhood," and elders sometimes miss the ageist undertones.
In a classic study, researchers analyzed the effects of ageism among the elderly. They performed memory tests on three selected groups: residents of China, deaf North Americans, and hearing North Americans. In the three groups, the Chinese residents were presumably the least exposed to ageism, with lifelong experience in a culture that traditionally venerates older generations. Lifelong deaf North Americans also faced less exposure to ageism in contrast to those with typical hearing, who presumably had heard ageist comments their whole life. The results of the memory tests showed that ageism has significant effects on memory.
The gap in the scores between the young and old North Americans with normal hearing were double those of the deaf North Americans and five times wider than those of the Chinese participants. The results show that ageism undermines ability through its self-fulfilling nature. The study was investigating the effect of the
On the other hand, when elders show larger independence and control in their lives, defying ageist assumptions, they are more likely to be healthier, both mentally and physically, than other people their age.
Research indicates that older people are stereotyped as scoring lower on measures of impulsivity, activism, antagonism and
Stereotyping and prejudice against different groups in society does not take the same form. Age-based prejudice and stereotyping usually involves older or younger people being pitied, marginalized, or patronized. This is described as "benevolent prejudice" because the tendency to pity is linked to seeing older or younger people as "friendly" but "incompetent."
The figure for friendliness of under-30s is, conversely, an example of Hostile Prejudice. Hostile prejudice based on hatred, fear, aversion, or threat often characterizes attitudes linked to race, religion, disability, and sex. An example of hostile prejudice toward youth is the presumption without any evidence that a given crime was committed by a young person. Rhetoric regarding intergenerational competition can be motivated by politics. Violence against vulnerable older people can be motivated by subconscious hostility or fear; within families, this involves impatience and lack of understanding. Equality campaigners are often wary of drawing comparisons between different forms of inequality.[
The impact of "benevolent" and "hostile" prejudice tends to be different. The warmth felt towards older or younger people and the knowledge that many have no access to paid employment means there is often public acceptance that they are deserving of preferential treatment—for example, less expensive movie and bus fares. But the perception of incompetence means older and younger people can be seen as "not up to the job" or "a menace on the roads," when there is little or exaggerated evidence to support this. Prejudice also leads to assumptions that it is "natural" for older or younger people to have lower expectations, reduced choice and control, and less account taken of their views.[
Digital ageism refers to the prejudices faced by older adults in the digital world. A few examples of the subtle ways in which digital ageism operates in cultural representations, research, and everyday life: Generational segregation naturalizes youth as digitally adept and the old as digital dunces. There is no empirical evidence, though, for a digital divide between older and younger people, with the former never and the latter always capable to use digital media; a far more accurate description is that of a digital spectrum. The reason for the myth of declining capabilities of older people could be that many cultural representations have long histories reproducing images of the life cycle as a mountain, where we peak in middle age then decline Older adults’ experiences are often excluded from research agendas on digital media, and ageism is ensconced within disciplines such as mass communication studies. For example, in a media diffusionist perspective, the practices of seniors are depicted as either negligible or as lagging, and the equation of diffusion with individual ownership can hide practical ‘work-arounds’ such as cell phone sharing or missed calls used by older couples on fixed incomes. Ageism is also inadvertently embedded in the ways that we generate statistics, for example through data collected based on large age categories (e.g., '60+') foisting anyone over 60 into ‘the grey zone’ which obscures differences.
The term visual ageism was coined in 2018 by Loos and Ivan. They define visual ageism as “the social practice of visually underrepresenting older people or misrepresenting them in a prejudiced way”. We are facing a shift from visual ageism characterized by underrepresentation and the negative representation of older people to a representation of older age characterized by images of stereotypically third age older adults (enjoying life and living their golden years), while older adults in their fourth age (inactive and unable to live independently) remain invisible. A review of empirical studies conducted since 1950 in Europe and North America reveals that print and television advertisements started this transition towards a more positive visual representation of older adults in their age during the last decade of the 20th century, followed by television programs some years later, while older adults in their fourth age remain invisible.
This is probably due to the increase in third age rhetoric in the media, picturing older people as healthy and as potential consumers, enjoying life and living their golden years. Media representations of older people have moved from visual under- and misrepresentation (negative images) to more positive depictions These days, visual ageism in the media tends to come wrapped in the guise of the positive attributes of third age representations of older people, while adults in their fourth age continue to be underrepresented. One possible explanation for this is that healthy third agers might prefer not to be associated with fourth agers, as they remind them too starkly of what lies ahead in their own near future. Although this discomfort or even fear about mortality is undeniably common, from a societal point of view this kind of (self)ageism is hurtful to fourth agers as a group and in a sense to third agers as well, as they risk to become fourth agers themselves one day.