Seniors Are Commonly Stereotyped In A Negative Fashion
It’s pretty common for people to make a joke about being “over the hill”. And at some time we have all said (or thought) “I’m getting too old for this.” These cliches are part of our culture. They allow us to communicate more effectively and help others understand our point.
They also mirror a negative view of what our society commonly thinks about growing old. Dr. Robert Butler first defined this perspective in 1968 as “ageism” – a systematic stereotyping of and discrimination against people because they are old.
A negative perception of aging and older individuals is readily apparent in our language, the media and even in what is commonly accepted as humor. Many times older women are seen as unhealthy, asexual, lonely, shriveled, inactive and dependent. And older men are perceived as odd, psychologically dependent, timid, sexually inadequate and perverted. For examples, all you have to do is take a look at humorous birthday cards.
In American society, there are 4 main factors that contribute to the negative view of aging and being an old person.
- Old age and death are synonymous to youth and middle-age adults. And they typically fear death and affiliate old age with disability, powerlessness and disease that lead to death.
- The tremendous emphasis on youth culture. This affects how seniors are perceived and how they perceive themselves.
- The emphasis on productivity and earnings while retirement is seen as not working.
- Some poorly controlled studies of the aged focused on easy to find seniors who were institutionalized (only 5 % of the older population) and had health problems.
Women and men are both subject to ageism. As you know, the stereotypes of the “grumpy” old man and the “helpless” old lady are prevalent in movies, advertising, books and on television.
They help influence many young and middle-aged people (and seniors, too) to hold these stereotypes to be true for all older individuals. What’s more amazing is that it is suspected (but not proven) that some seniors believe that they are supposed to take on these roles and actually adopt the style.
Instead, we should continue to learn from our experience with seniors in general, but not stereotype. Let’s recognize ageism as it appears and educate others to do the same. And always keep in mind that some of the most independent, vibrant, intelligent, proud, pleasant and driven individuals in our society are senior citizens.
(Sources: American Society of Aging, Webster University Gerontology Dept.)