Ageism: Causes, Consequences and Recommendation
Kunda (1999) noted that people have a tendency when they perceive others in social settings, to automatically categorize them into three major dimensions: race, age and sex (as cited in Nelson, 2004, p.ix). Barrow and Smith (1979) noted that only a small proportion of theoretical and empirical research within psychology has been directed towards understanding ageism (while much of the research has focused on the other two ‘isms’: racism and sexism) (as cited in Nelson, 2004, p.ix). Butler (1969) coined the term ‘ageism’ describing it as being comparative to other examples of bigotry (e.g. sexism and racism) whereby he defined it as people systematically stereotyping and discriminating others on the basis that they are old (as cited in Angus & Reeve, 2006). Nowadays, the concept is more loosely defined as one discriminating against or being prejudicial (in a positive or negative manner) towards any age category (Angus & Reeve, 2006). Discrimination may be defined as a set of processes which leads to another individual or group being marginalized (Thompson, 2005, p.3). While prejudice may be defined as one having a negative attitude about other people because of the group they are a member of (Holt et al., 2012, p.539).
One possible reason for why there has not been much attention paid to ageism is the fact that demonstrating age prejudice is probably one of the most socially common, overlooked and institutionalized types of prejudice found globally – especially in the United States (Nelson, 2004, p.ix). For e.g. think back to the last time you bought a birthday card for a friend/family member who was over the age of 50 which implied some sort of metal or physical decline or had an “over the hill” theme despite being done in a supposedly humorous way (Thompson, 2005, p.16; Nelson, 2004, p.ix). Since research into ageism is sparse and that it is a common form a social prejudice, this essay will aim to identify the causes and consequences of ageism as well as putting forward some recommendations which could help to ameliorate this “ism”. The Causes of Ageism
One interesting and defining characteristic of ageism, is that age, unlike sex and race, signifies a category in which young people will most likely grow old (provided they do not die at a young age) (Nelson, 2004, p.x). As a result, it seems quiet strange that young people would demonstrate prejudice towards those who they themselves will eventually become like (Nelson, 2004, p.x). A number of explanations as to what causes ageism have been put forward and we will look at the following three: stereotypes, terror management theory and social identity theory. Stereotypes
Harding, Proshansky, Kutner, and Chein (1969, p.4) defined a stereotype as being “a belief that is simple, inadequately grounded, at least partially inaccurate, and held with considerable assurance by many people” (as cited in MacKie, 1973, p.432). We use stereotypes as cognitive structures to hold our expectations and beliefs regarding the characteristics of individuals belonging to different social groups and whether or not they are accurate, our stereotypes influence our social behaviour (Nelson, 2004, p.4). The stereotypes which have been established regarding ageism have become so ingrained in the perceptions we have about human life that they have now become unquestioned beliefs (Angus & Reeve, 2006). Whenever you see people, you categorize these individuals into race, age and sex (Nelson, 2005). We have learned to categorize people very well and it has become a pivotal aspect to our social perception (Nelson, 2005). Categorization can lead to stereotyping and as Ormrod (2000) stipulated, stereotypes have three defining characteristics: they are simple, rigid and inaccurate (Nelson. 2005; as cited in Bowd, 2003).
Hummert (1990) recruited 80 undergraduate students in order to identify positive and negative stereotypes associated with the...
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