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Negative age-based stereotypes have become a major issue in the United States, and ageism will become and even bigger issue as the number of older adults is expected to double over the next two decades. Researchers have discovered the three main issues that are at the root of ageism.

Hoping to understand what causes ageism, Princeton University psychology professor Susan Fiske and graduate student Michael North focused their research on the challenge society faces to adjust to a graying population and the intergenerational tensions that can arise.

While most are familiar with descriptive ageist prejudice, in which seniors are discriminated against based on negative stereotypes (i.e. seniors are “slow” or have poor memory), the researchers focused on ageism that is based on what psychologists call prescriptive prejudice. Prescriptive ageist prejudices are beliefs about how older adults should differ from others. When older adults do not adhere to these beliefs, they are punished by those who discriminate against them.

The researchers found that the prescriptive stereotypes center on three key issues:

Across six studies, the researchers concluded that younger adults were most likely to endorse these prescriptive stereotypes. The researchers noted that this was especially concerning because ageism is the one form of discrimination in which those who are generally doing the discriminating, younger generations, will eventually become part of the targeted demographic.

“If there’s one take away from this research, it’s that it’s important to focus on the facts of these demographic changes rather than misguided perceptions,” North said. “Talking about these issues helps you find constructive ways to address them.”

Read the article: Researchers Chart New Path for Study of Ageism or purchase the full study: Act Your (Old) Age Prescriptive, Ageist Biases Over Succession, Consumption, and Identity.

Society’s views toward aging have come a long way as the average age of the population increases, but not far enough. Paternalistic and condescending attitudes about seniors still prevail in many places and result in ageism and elder abuse. ALFA, representing senior living providers and the seniors and families they serve, is a leading voice in the fight against ageism in America. ALFA’s goal is to illuminate discriminatory practices that adversely affect seniors’ lives, illuminate prejudicial attitudes toward the aging process, and institutional practices that perpetuate stereotypes about seniors. In 2013, ALFA will continue identifying opportunities to throw ageist prejudices on their head.


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