Who’s “Really” Old?: Addressing Shifting Targets of Ageism through Intragroup and Intergroup Perceptions of Aging

By Martine Lagacé and Najat Firzly.

Published by The International Journal of Aging and Society

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: January 24, 2017 $US5.00

Ageist stereotypes are pervasive in Western culture. In light of the Stereotype Content Model (SCM), results of empirical work suggest that young individuals often perceive older adults as warm but as less competent than themselves. Although ageism is well understood in terms of intergroup group perceptions (i.e., young adults toward older adults), few studies have addressed how ageist stereotypes are manifested among older adults. The question is of great relevance in the face of increased longevity and the still powerful “successful/active” aging paradigms whereby the very old may be stigmatized. The goal of the current study is precisely to better understand how young individuals perceive older adults but also how older adults perceive one another. To do so, a total of 400 Canadian participants (216 university students, the majority aged eighteen to twenty years old, and 184 private care facility senior residents, the majority aged seventy-six to eighty-five years old) took part in a self-reported survey. Participants were asked to indicate what level of competency and warmth they would attribute to young, young-old, old, and oldest individuals. Results suggest that oldest individuals are perceived as the least competent by both students and residents. More so, students attribute the highest warmth scores to the old individuals while residents perceive the young-old individuals as being the warmest. Such results suggest shifting targets of ageism whereby very old individuals are particularly at risk of being the target of ageist stereotypes.

Keywords: Ageism, Intergroup, Intragroup, Stereotype Content Model, Fourth Age

The International Journal of Aging and Society, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp.35-48. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: January 24, 2017 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 775.834KB)).

Dr. Martine Lagacé

Associate Professor, Department of Communication, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Najat Firzly

Doctoral Candidate, School of Psychology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada