Inequalities Related to Aging
In previous chapters. we have seen how prejudice and discrimination may be directed toward individuals based on ascribed characteristics-such as race ethnicity
or gender-over which they h ave no control.The same holds true for age.
Stereotypes regarding older persons reinforce ageism. defined in Chapter 4 as prejudice and discrimination against people on the basis of age, particularly against
older persons. Ageism against older persons is rooted in the assumption that people become unattractive. unintelligent. asexual. unemployable. and mentally incompetent as they grow older. Ageism is reinforced by stereotypes, whereby people have narrow. fixed images of certain groups. Onesidedand exaggerated images of older people are used repeatedly in everyday life. Older persons are often
stereotyped as thinking and moving slowly; as being bound to themselvs and their past. unable to change and grow; as being unable to move forward and oftenmoving backward. They are viewed as cranky. sickly. and lacking in social value; as egocentric and demanding; as shallow. enfeebled. aimless. and absentminded. The media contribute to negative images of older persons. many of whom are portrayed as doddering. feebleminded. wrinkled. and laughable men andwomen. literally standing on their last legs (see Box 12.3). This is especially true with regard to advertising. In one survey, 40 percent of respondents over age 65 agreed that advertising portrays older people as unattractive and incon~petent (Pomice, 1990). According to the advertising director of one magazine. “Advertising shows young people at their best and most beautiful. but it shows older people at their worst” (qtd, in Pernice, 1990: 42). Of older persons who do appear on television. most are male; only about one in ten characters appearing to be age 65 or older is a woman.
conveying a subtle message hat older women are especially unimportant (Pomlce, 1990). Fortunately, in recent years there has been a growing effort by the media to draw attention to the contributions. talents. and stamina of older persons rather than showing only stereotypical and negative portrayals,For example. the New York Times, CNN (Cable News Network). and other news sources highlighted more
than a dozen runners over age 80 in the New York City Marathon. The media pointed out that some runners were in their nineties and that records are maintained of such accomplishments as being the fastest 85-yearold ever to complete the race (Barron. 1997). Despite some changes in media coverage of older
people. many younger individuals still hold negative stereotypes of “the elderly” In one study. William C. Levin (1988) showed photographs of the same man(disguised to appear as ages 25. 52. and 73 in various .
photos) to a group of college students and asked them to evaluate these (apparently different) men for employment purposes. Based purely on the photographs. the “73-year-old” was viewed by many of the students as being less competent. less intelligent. and less reliable than the “25-year-old” and the “52-year-old.” Many older people resist ageism by continuing to view themselves as being in middle adulthood long after their actual chronological age would suggest otherwise. In one study of people aged 60 and over. 75 percent of the respondents stated that they thought of themselves as middle-aged and only 10 percent viewed themselves as being old. When the same people were interviewed again 10 years later. one-third still considered themselves to be middle-aged. Even at age 80. one out of four men and one out of five women said that the word old did not apply to them; this lack of willingness to acknowledge having reached an older age is a’ consequence of ageism in society (Belsky. 1999).