Ageism

Ageism, also spelled agism, is stereotyping and discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their age. This may be casual or systematic.[1][2] The term was coined in 1969 by Robert Neil Butler to describe discrimination against seniors, and patterned on sexism and racism.[3] Butler defined "ageism" as a combination of three connected elements. Among them were prejudicial attitudes towards older people, old age, and the aging process; discriminatory practices against older people; and institutional practices and policies that perpetuate stereotypes about elderly people.[4]

While the term is also used in regards to prejudice and discrimination against adolescents and children, such as denying them certain rights (e.g. voting),[5] ignoring their ideas because they are considered "too young", or assuming that they should behave in certain ways because of their age,[6] the term is predominantly used in relation to the treatment of older people. Older people themselves can be deeply ageist, having internalized a lifetime of negative stereotypes about aging.[7] Fear of death and fear of disability and dependence are major causes of ageism; avoiding, segregating, and rejecting older people are coping mechanisms that allow people to avoid thinking about their own mortality.[8]

Classification

Distinction from other age-related bias

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. Adultism is a predisposition towards adults, which is seen as biased against children, youth, and all young people who are not addressed or viewed as adults.[9] Jeunism is the discrimination against older people in favor of younger ones.[dubious ] This includes political candidacies, jobs, and cultural settings where the supposed greater vitality and/or physical beauty of youth is more appreciated than the supposed greater moral and/or intellectual rigor of adulthood. Adultcentrism is the "exaggerated egocentrism of adults."[10] Adultocracy is the social convention which defines "maturity" and "immaturity," placing adults in a dominant position over young people, both theoretically and practically.[11] Gerontocracy is a form of oligarchical rule in which an entity is ruled by leaders who are significantly older than most of the adult population.[12] Chronocentrism is primarily the belief that a certain state of humanity is superior to all previous and/or future times.[13]

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).[14]

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,[15] sometimes also referred to as an irrational fear of adolescents or a prejudice against teenagers;[16] and gerontophobia, the fear of elderly people.[17]

Implicit ageism

Implicit ageism is the term used to refer to the implicit or subconscious thoughts, feelings, and behaviors one has about older or younger people. These may be a mixture of positive and negative thoughts and feelings, but gerontologist Becca Levy reports that they "tend to be mostly negative."[18]

Stereotyping

Stereotyping is a tool of cognition which involves categorizing into groups and attributing characteristics to these groups. Stereotypes are necessary for processing huge volumes of information which would otherwise overload a person and are generally accurate descriptors of group characteristics, though some stereotypes are inaccurate.[19] However, they can cause harm when the content of the stereotype is incorrect with respect to most of the group or where a stereotype is so strongly held that it overrides evidence which shows that an individual does not conform to it. For example, age-based stereotypes prime one to draw very different conclusions when one sees an older and a younger adult with, say, back pain or a limp. One might well assume that the younger person's condition is temporary and treatable, following an accident, while the older person's condition is chronic and less susceptible to intervention. On average, this might be true, but plenty of older people have accidents and recover quickly and very young people (such as infants, toddlers and small children) can become permanently disabled in the same situation. This assumption may have no consequence if one makes it in the blink of an eye as one is passing someone in the street, but if it is held by a health professional offering treatment or managers thinking about occupational health, it could inappropriately influence their actions and lead to age-related discrimination.

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.[20] 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.[21]

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.[22] 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.[22]

In a classic study, researchers analyzed the effects of ageism among the elderly.[23] 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.[22] The study was investigating the effect of the stereotype threat, which has been explored as a possible reason for memory deficits,[24] though the stereotype threat has been criticized.[25]

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.[22]

Research indicates that older people are stereotyped as scoring lower on measures of impulsivity, activism, antagonism and openness while younger people are stereotyped as scoring higher on these measures. This was found to be universal across cultures and was also found to be reasonably accurate (varying depending on how the accuracy was assessed and the type of stereotype), though differences were consistently exaggerated.[26] Ageism can also manifests itself in perceptions of how dateable one is; which has culminated in terms such as the sexpiration date, indicating the age after which one is no longer appealing.[27]

Prejudice

Ageist prejudice is a type of emotion which is often linked to the cognitive process of stereotyping. It can involve the expression of derogatory attitudes, which may then lead to the use of discriminatory behavior. Where older or younger contestants were rejected in the belief that they were poor performers, this could well be the result of stereotyping. But older people were also voted for on a stage in a game where it made sense to target the best performers. This can only be explained by a subconscious emotional reaction to older people; in this case, the prejudice took the form of distaste and a desire to exclude oneself from the company of older people.[28]

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." Age Concern's survey revealed strong evidence of "benevolent prejudice." 48% said that over-70s are viewed as friendly (compared to 27% who said the same about under-30s). Meanwhile, only 26% believe over-70s are viewed as capable (with 41% saying the same about under-30s).[29]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Digital ageism

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.[30][31][32] 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[31][33][34] 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,[35] 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.[36][37] 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.[38]

Visual ageism

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”.[39] 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[39] 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)[40][41][42][43] to more positive depictions[44][45][39] 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.[39]