Elderly stereotypes

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            In the United States, 18.5% of the population is over the age of 60 (U.S. Census, 2010).  I live in a county that has a higher percentage of senior citizens, 22% (U.S. Census, 2010).  In addition to my older family members, I have had the opportunity to work with our county's senior population in varying capacities.  I have worked with them and for them.  I have provided services (social support, emergency) to them, advocated for them, and trained and educated them.  I have found this population to be engaging, helpful, wise, and quite active.

            Society however, has tended to overlook, undervalue, and stereotype the elderly.  The stereotype is often based on myths and assumptions.  Seniors are often thought of as unproductive, alienated, and ineffectual.  Parsons (1993) notes that society views the aged as an "increasing burden on society because they are unproductive, increasingly frail, and vulnerable with their decreasing ability to perform activities of daily living, and frequently poor mobility".      

Reality is that the percentage of elderly working has risen substantially since 1994.  The U.S. Labor Force Participation Rates reports that 58% of men and 45% of women between the ages of 60-64 are employed.   The number of those that are employed full time is also increasing. 

            Society assumes the elderly have greatly reduced physical or mental capacities that have resulted in the need to live in nursing homes.  The fact is only 5.4% of the aged are placed in institutions (nursing homes) due to either physical or emotional reasons (Butler et al. 1998).  That leaves 94.6% that are choosing assisted living, living independently in their family home or a downsized apartment, with extended family or joining economic forces with a friend.  Regardless of where seniors live, the majority are far from alienated.  Those that are not working are caring for their families and volunteering in numerous capacities.   I have encountered seniors who are going to other senior's homes to assist with their care.  I see seniors volunteering at schools, daycares, hospitals, libraries, and civic service organizations.  Some seniors are even continuing their education by taking college classes.  Regardless of where they are working and living, or what they are doing, seniors are engaged.   

            I think it is time to stop regarding seniors citizens in terms of what they no longer do but in terms of what they are now doing.  To do otherwise, to perpetuate a negative stereotype of this population is reinforcing ageism.  Just like any form of negative stereotyping, it can have an effect on society and the individual.   Levy (2002) stated that negative stereotypes are internalized at a young age and reinforced over time.  Levy (2002) found that people 50 years and older who had a more positive self-perception of aging lived 7.5 years longer than people with negative self-perceptions about aging.  That's incredible.  We have the opportunity to contribute to longevity simply by valuing and revering our aging population in the way they should have been all along.  

 

                 

References

 

Butler, R. N. (1993). Dispelling ageism: The cross-cutting intervention. Generations, 17(2):75.

 

Levy, B. R., Slade, M. D., Kunkel, S. R., & Kasl, S. V. (2002). Longevity increased by positive self-perceptions of aging. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(2), 261-261-270. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.83.2.261

 

Parsons, A. (1993). Attitudes to the elderly. St. Vincent's Nursing Monograph 1993 Selected Works.   

 

Population Reference Bureau. (2006).  Retrieved on October 21, 2011 from          

 http://www.prb.org/Articles/2006/FullTimeWorkAmongElderlyIncreases.aspx      

 

United States Census Bureau  (2010).  Retrieved on October 21, 2011from

http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_10_1YR_S0101&prodType=table

 

United States Census Bureau (2010).  Lycoming County.  Retrieved on October 21, 2011 from

http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=bkmk

 

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3 Comments

It is true how some people characterize elderly citizens as unable to care for themselves and it is true that they all have a stereotype on them. I agree with the idea that we should not overlook elderly people as incapable of working and being limited by these capacities that you talk about. My own grandmother is around the age of 60 and she works 40-45 hours a week in a factory and is in no way alienated or shows signs of weakness.
The idea here is to overlook the stereotype that they are given much like all stereotypes. To me , I never really had a problem with this stereotype. Some people view them as you explained, as others such as me have never thought of elderly in such a manner. The only time I have seen the “typical” nursing home for elders would be on tv or the media. If people were not so dependent or believing about everything they see people would not characterize anybody by their age, race, or gender. I fully support the idea of halting the judgment on older people just because of their past and focus more on the brighter future they are building for themselves.

I too have worked with the elderly. I was a home health care aid, I would to go to their homes and help them with everyday chores and needs, but mostly what they needed was companionship. I feel it is terrible the way that our societies treat our elderly. What happened to respecting our elders, or looking up to the eldest in society for advice. It is evident the effect our attitudes are having on the elderly population when looking at suicide rates. Currently the highest suicide rates are males over 65. Some theories believe they dont want to be a burden to their families anymore, but I feel this should thought wouldn't cross their minds if they were respected more as a whole.

American Association of Suicidology. (2009). Elderly Suicide Fact Sheet [Data file]. http://www.suicidology.org

I find your blog’s subject very interesting and thoughtful as it deals with a serious issue. Ageism refers to prejudice, discrimination, and hostility directed against people because of their age (Henslin, 2006). Ageism is similar to racism and sexism as involves negative and unfair stereotypes of people based solely on their chronological age. As one form of discrimination and prejudice it could negatively affect the particular group of people and lead to stereotype threat. Some of these stereotype views could depict for instance that an old person is week, dependant and suffering from several illnesses. However today with the advantage in technology and science, particularly in the medical field, people live longer than before and are able to maintain a better quality of life. As you pointed out a large percentage of people between the ages of 60-64 are employed and only 5.4% of the aged population is dependant and placed in nursing home. Therefore the stereotype ideas about the older population do not seem to represent what is actually happening in reality. From my personal experience I know several people who retired from their jobs at age 60 or 65 and went on to find a new job. I know others who decided to go back to school or start doing other things such as mastering a creative hobby that they were not able to do when they were younger due to time and other life obligations.

I believe cultural influences also affect the way a society views the elderly population. For instance in some Asian cultures older people are respected and due to their life experience are considered wise. Additionally depending on the structure of the society one can distinguish different views and perspectives about older people.

References:

Henslin, J. M. (2006).Essentials of Sociology: A down-to-earth approach (6th e.d.). Boston: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.

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