Saturday, September 1, 2007


By Sudipa Sarkar
Ageing and Ageism
Ageing is the inevitable natural process of life which leads one to grow with time with advancing age and mortality. The perception of ageing varies individually – for someone, it is the general age with which one identifies, for the others, the perception of age comes relatively lately. As people grow older, they experience numerous structural and functional changes both at physiological as well as psychological level, which influence significantly in the later developmental phases of their life. Few people experience the unpleasant effect of discrimination and prejudice because of their age. Ageism indicates to any event in which individuals are negatively judged not by their behaviour, personality or action but by their age. They are inaccurately portrayed as weak or inflexible. Hence, ageism implies a prejudice among the given society against the older individuals. According to Traxler (1980), ageism can be defined as any attitude or action which governs an individual or group of individuals and their roles in the society purely on the basis of their biological age. However, some older adults may not be physically or mental able and need more care, there are number of elderly people who may not be included in stereotype of helpless, mindless or passionless individuals.

The concept of ageism is primarily based on two crucial factors –

(I) The dynamism of age classification: The classification of age is not static. The age classification changes as an individual moves through the development continuum. Hence, the classification of age is featured by a continual change compared to other static classifications such as race, gender which is used by society.

(II) The inevitability of achieving the status ‘old’: In the course of time, each and everyone has to be identified as being ‘old’, in other words, ageism occurs at everyone’s age, until and unless early mortality commences.

The second factor may be considered as a significant characteristic affecting the individual primarily at two levels. The individual may act as an ageist with respect to others for which he or she may identify stereotypically other people on the basis of their age. Secondly the individual may be an ageist with respect to self for which his or her self concept may be affected and biased by his or her ageist attitudes.

Problems found in the researches on Ageism
Ageing is the inevitable natural process of life which leads one to grow with time with advancing age and realization of ageing. There are numbers of researches that have been conducted on this aspect. Researchers such as Golde & Kogan (1959), Kastenbaum & Durkee (1964) and Tuckman & Lorge (1953) argued for the existence of ageist attitude and focused on the development and manifestations of ageist attitudes. On the other hand, researchers like Brubaker & Powers (1976) and Schonfield (1985) did not explain the existence of ageist attitude at all. This difference in finding makes one thing clear that there is a methodological inconsistency or methodological error occurred among the researches.

There is another problem found while conducting researches on ageism or ageist attitude, that is, mono-method bias. In mono-method bias, each research is limited to using one method to describe the construct of the study operationally. The followings are the methods that have been used for this purpose, individually at a given time:

(I) Completion of sentence, Golde & Kogan (1959),
(II) Semantic differential, Kogan & Wallach (1961), Rosencranz & McNevin (1969),
(III) Likert scales, Kilty & Feld, (1976), and
(IV) Adjective checklists (Aaronson, 1966).

The use of mono-method might turn the research into the inherence of effect found as an artefact of the method used in the study rather than its use as a construct in the study. Hence, the researcher must use more than one method to avoid the bias in the study and to define the consistency of the study itself.

The use of within-subjects design in the methodological study of ageism is another crucial problem (Kogan, 1979). According to this bias, age is induced to the innermost corner of subject’s psyche while questionnaires have been provided to both younger and older adults to conduct the research on ageism. Thus, the subject becomes aware of the researcher’s findings on age difference, and hence, a bias has been introduced.

Another problem is associated with the selection of samples. Most of the studies include younger adults or children as samples for examining their perception on ageism, whereas there are very few studies which directly involve the most affected group in their studies, that is, the older adults. In whichever studies they got involved, it is biased by institutionalization, that is, it considers the samples found in institutions such as old-age home, and hence, unable to cover the generalized sample of older adults (Kastenbaum & Durkee, 1964a; Tuckman & Lavell, 1957).

One important problem found while conducting the research on ageism includes bias on the negative stereotype of ageism or negative aspects of ageist attitude, whereas, there are several positive attitudes associated with the concept of ageism, however, they are basically stereotypical in nature (Austin, 1985). According to Brubaker & Powers (1976), the researches must be expanded so that the positive stereotypes of ageism can also be analysed, which is still a rare inclusion in ageism research.

There are few more problems associated with the research conducted on ageism. Among them, the important twos are –

(I) Rare attempts to understand the underlying cause of ageism
(II) Rare attempts to understand the interaction between ageism with other ‘isms’.

Theoretical perspectives of Ageism
In 1969, Robert N. Butler, the then Director of National Institute of Ageing in the United States, coined the term ‘ageism’ for the first time. He explained and defined it as an interconnected combination of three factors –
(I) Prejudiced beliefs and attitudes directed towards elderly individuals, old age and the ageing process itself.
(II) Discriminatory action directed towards older individuals.
(III) Establishment of institutional practices and policies that indulge the promotion of age discrimination.

Ageism primarily covers up the negative biases or stereotypes associated with older ages and ageing process in general. There are mainly four factors that are believed to contribute to this negative belief (Traxler, 1980) –

(I) Fear of death in Western Society: Buttler & Lewis (1977) argued that western society hypothesized death as not belonging to the human life cycle. Thus, death is viewed and experienced as an external phenomenon associated with the outrage of self and not being an inevitable part of life cycle, which is in contrast to the belief system of eastern society where life and death are considered as an interchangeable and inevitable part of the life cycle. In western society, it is believed that one must alive and be able to take control his own life, whereas in eastern society, it is believed that the self is in continuum of development throughout life and death.

As because death is feared is western society, old age is feared, as it is considered that the old age is the symbolic form of death which confirms that death is knocking at the door with numbers of disability, disease, powerlessness, feeling of uselessness (Buttler, 1969).
(II) Emphasis on youth culture in western society: The youth is praised in industrialized western culture and civilization because of their youthfulness, physical beauty and sexuality. On the other hand, older adults are ignored as a result of lacking these factors (Martel, 1968; Northcott, 1975).
(III) The conceptualization of productivity in western culture: In western culture productivity is narrowly described in terms of earning potential. Both ends of the continuum of development is considered as unproductive phase, that is, children and old-aged (Buttler, 1969). But for the children, they are considered as future productive, that is, investment for future production, whereas, old individuals are considered as non-productive, and hence, as burdens and financial liabilities and thus, devalued.
(IV) Lack of constructive professionalism contributing to the research on ageism: The poorly conducted gerontological studies have not provided sufficient information on ageism and the lack of proper information reinforced in the development of prejudices and negative beliefs concerning ageism. The primary focus has been done in the adults admitted in long-term care institutions while conducting the research on ageing, which may cover not more than 5% of the total aged population, hence, the bias on the research has been inevitably introduced.

According to Rosencranz & McNevin (1969), the ageist attitudes can be decreased with the continuous and methodical exposure and interaction with older individuals. Hence, it is quite evident that there is a strong societal influence on ageism.

Empirical evidences of Ageism

There are several numbers of empirical evidences that provide the support for the existence of ageism or age discrimination among different regions of the world especially in western cultures. Researchers like Bishop and Krause (1984) conducted the studies on ageism or age discrimination influencing media, Palmore (1971) and Davies (1977) describing how humour is influenced by ageist belief and attitudes, Parker, Wilson, Mitchell & Revicki (1985) analysed the effect of ageist belief and attitudes among children, Weinberger & Millham (1975) on younger adults and Kastenbaum & Durkee, (1964); Woolf (1988) on older individuals.

In television and media, 1.5% - 2% of its characters are portrayed as elderly (Zebrowitz & Montepare, 2000) and most of them are depicted in minor roles. According to Zebrowitz & Montepare (2000), older individuals are generally appeared in comic roles compared to other individuals belonging to different age groups, and portrayed as physically, cognitively and sexually ineffective.

Gerbner et al (1980) established a relationship between television viewing and ageist attitudes which argued that heavy television viewing somehow related to the negative stereotypes of ageing – negative ageist attitude by emphasising on the belief of ageing directly proportional to orthodox mentality, rigidity and less open-mindedness. Another study conducted on ageism in order to find out the influence of ageist attitude among children, researchers such as Bishop and Krause (1984) concluded that by presenting older individuals as evil or unproductive in television serials or cartoons may affect the development of a child and the child may develop a negative stereotypical ageist attitude.

This is not necessarily that television always portrayed unrealistic or insensitive issues concerning older individuals. According to Passuth and Cook (1985), television has a small but significant impact on knowledge and the development of ageist belief and is primarily constricted within younger adults. On the other hand, there are researches on this aspect which primarily concerns for positive stereotypical ageist attitude among individuals. Such a research conducted by Elliot (1984) described that older males in day time opera had been characterized as ‘good audience’ and older females in the same had been characterized as ‘good nurturers’, which resembles with the findings of the study conducted by Ramsdell (1973). Here the presentation of old age is not at all negative, but still stereotypical.

Age discrimination and self-concept
There are several numbers of empirical evidences that provide the support for the existence of the relation among self-concept and age discrimination. The concept of elderly group who are mostly affected by the ageist attitude is one of the most interesting issues for research on ageism. Researchers such as Kastenbaum and Durkee (1964) analysed the way older individuals perceive their age and ageing process. It has been hypothesized that positive attitude towards oneself is indirectly proportionate to ageing, that is, as one progresses with age he or she may become less positive about himself or herself. According to Kuhlen (1959), a study concluded that only 5% of the middle aged and elderly individuals have defined this phase as a phase of ‘greatest happiness’. There are also different hypothesises that contribute to the internalization of ageist attitudes in the older individuals – among which ‘social breakdown syndrome’ is one of the most important. In 1973, Kuypers and Bengston hypothesized that social breakdown syndrome is a phenomenon comprising of seven stages that inadvertently affects the ageist attitude and self concept of older adults. At its initial level, susceptibility towards dependency on externalization, that is, an older individual is vulnerable to become dependent on others as a result of lack of role playing or responsibility, such as widowhood or retirement. Next phase comprises of being externally dependent – it may have either of two routes. If the dependency is positive, the social breakdown syndrome terminates at this point, whereas, if this is negative, it would continue to more further to next successive stages. As we can see that the third phase is originated as a continuity of negative impact of dependency, thus, the third stage inevitably brings the negative resolution where the assumption of incompetence of older individual is primarily characterized by societal view. If this social stigma is accepted by the older individual, then the individual is reassigned into next stages, where the individual is labelled as dependent, incompetent, inadequate and sick to himself and to the society itself. This is how, the social breakdown syndrome occurs and negative beliefs and attitudes concerning age and ageing take place.

Influence of gender on ageist attitude

Research on ageism has provided plenty information about the impact of ageism or age discrimination on older adults, whereas information or analysis on the differential effect based on gender is not sufficient. In general most of the ageism studies have not provided much emphasis on the gender discrimination regarding the analysis of ageism; however, followings are few studies that cover this aspect. Researchers such as Block, Davidson and Grambs (1981) reported that older women specifically suffered from negatively stereotyped ageist attitude in a societal framework, where she has been described as ineffective, asexual, unhealthy and inactive. There are more biases involved in the generalization process in which older women are portrayed as a form of generalized entity, whereas the older population is actually characterized by its heterogeneity. In the humour ground, older women mainly projected as frustrated, sexless and lonely (Palmore, 1971). This implies that older women are basically considered as a symbol for unworthy incapable entity in the societal context. However, sex is not related to only age, rather the participation of partner and social approval play the major role in sexual involvement in old age. Moreover, sexual interest and capability do not necessarily decrease with age for women (Hultsch and Deutsch, 1981).

Older women are commonly considered as unhealthy as well as hypochondriac (Riley and Foner, 1968). However, there is no significant difference found among older men and older women or between older and younger population ((Ross, Tait, Brandeberry, Grossberg, & Nakra, 1986). Older women are often portrayed as being ineffective, incapable, dependable and passive, especially regarding sex, which partially extended with a stereotypical view that all women are likewise (Block at al, 1981) and it is something in particular with that very often several women feel uncomfortable to match. The critical example of this self-fulfilling prophecy is noticed particularly for young widow women, who find it difficult to adjust with her inherent feelings of sexual independence (Block et al, 1981).

On the other hand, older men are perceived of becoming ‘feminine’ with their growing age, requiring for more care and concern with physical dependency and coyness (Silverman, 1977). There is a considerable impact of language on ageist attitude based on gender discrimination (Nuessel, 1982). The older women are more negatively described that that of older women in which older women may be described as ‘old witch’ implying unpleasant personality or ugly look, whereas older men may be described as ‘old coot’ describing slightly odd looking (Nuessel, 1982). Hence, it can be concluded in this aspect that societal attitude on ageism might be reflected by the use of language.

Relationship between ageist attitude and employment

Age discrimination or ageism has a major impact in the job industry covering both creative and non-creative industries. It has been stereotyped in major areas of employment that it entails not promoting or not hiring older workers compared to the younger ones. Even there is the high chance for encouraging early retirement for older populations. To avoid such discrepancy, many civilized countries like US, UK, Australia have introduced laws against age discrimination which promote and ensure the equality among different age groups. In the United States, Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 forbids employment favouritism derived from age difference especially addressing the problem older adults experience in getting new job after being expelled from the older one. In creative industries, the impact of employment discrimination is at its stake, where it has been observed that the musicians, scriptwriters, actors and actresses discontinue working with age whereas they are of enough capability and potentiality with experience. According to Dominic Abrams, the professor and educationist of University of Kent, England, the age discrimination is one of the most omnipresent stereotypes experienced by UK population. A recent survey on ageism stated that almost 29% of the respondents of the survey had suffered from ageism. In UK, there are several groups established in order to combat with age discrimination such as –
(I) Age Concern
(II) British Youth Council
(III) Help the Aged
Apart from this, The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations (2006) has been introduced which is a part of secondary legislation of UK. This law ensures the control of unreasonable and unjustified discrimination among workers on the basis of age.

Ageism in UK

In UK, the age discrimination problem is at its stake. According to Baroness Sally Greengross, the Chief Executive of International Longevity Centre, UK, ageism or age discrimination simply results in wasting talents and potentialities. She also argued that ageism has a deep-root in the societal context and is prevalent all over the society as a whole. Very often it is observed that general people focus on older adults in such a biased manner and perceive themselves ‘kind’ by maintaining such manners while dealing with older adults, that ultimately results in dysfunctional psychological frame for those older individuals sometimes by perceiving low self esteem and devaluation of society as a whole. Moreover, older individuals are not being able to become pursue their careers after reaching a certain age and may have difficulty in hiring automobiles, getting insurance or applying for a loan as because they have reached their particular birthday.

Study on ageism conducted by researchers from University of Kent, England, in autumn 2005, covering with 2000 samples altogether, have the following findings –
(I) The discrimination rate is the highest (almost 29%) compared to other form of discriminations.
(II) Starting from near about 55 years of age, people in general have become experienced of age discrimination more than any other form of discrimination.
(III) Studies suggest that there are 30% individuals who become sceptic of the dynamic nature of age discrimination among societal context.
(IV) Almost one third of the participants consider that demographic shifting of the society towards elderly population would transit the society to its worse.
(V) Almost 33.33% of participants declared that they view older adults of 70 and beyond as incompetent and ineffective.

One study on ageism over 2000 participants from all over the Britain conducted by researchers such as asserted that 42% of the participants believe that ageism is a really serious problem in societal context, whereas 52% believe that it is not that much serious issue at all, which signifies that there is a lack of knowledge regarding ageism throughout Britain. The same study suggests that there is a prevalence of ageism in Great Britain and it exists quite largely in the form of patronising or benevolent prejudice.

In a recent study organized by Age Concern suggests that 93% individuals believe that retirement should not have a fixed age by enabling the legal rights to continue job even after 65 years of age, whereas, 75% of the participants suggest in the traditional fashion with a belief of old age is basically characterized by less competency. There are several studies which suggest that interaction among different age group may reduce the chance of getting affected by the stereotypical view of age discrimination by employing friendship between people belonging to different age group.

Research shows that the primary orientation of UK tends towards egalitarianism. The statement of redistribution of income is not much varied on the basis of age difference with which the youngsters primarily agree more than that of other groups. These types of agreement changes with the ages with emphasise on disagree. The other form of group has focused their attention much on the work ethics and less on the age discrimination problem. Hence, this might influence the elderly people for assessing their role and responsibilities in society primarily focusing on the ability to perform with fullest potentiality in accordance to age.

Ageism in the light of modern generation
Research suggests that even at the age of 35, individuals may become the victim of ageism by reporting that 3% of the individuals of age group of 35 - 40 years have suffered discrimination in their employment (Dilley, 2003). There are many sectors which are very much susceptible to ageism or age discrimination, especially in IT sector. Ageists can be subdivided into five categories –
(I) The Pretenders – These are imprudent older folks believing in that age is not in age but in thought.
(II) The Discriminators – These individuals limit their sphere of influence regarding their application in realistic situations.
(III) The Exceptionalists – These individuals consider themselves as productive to the societal framework, whereas, they also consider their peers as non-productive to the society.
(IV) The Colonists – These individuals are basically individualized their existence and aging phase by defining it with possessive pronoun such as ‘My Elderly!’ or ‘Our senior citizens’.
(V) The Patronizers – These individuals are basically ‘happy type’ such as children, who should be catered and cared enough.

Ageism in the health service and social care

Social workers and health care practitioners have an important role over the ageist attitude that is quite prevalent in industrialized society. There are various organizations in UK who work against the age discrimination, among which the following threes have got special importance –
(I) Age Concern: This is a federation comprising more than 400 NGO’s under it which works for the needs and requirements of elderly persons, especially throughout United Kingdom (UK). Age Concern focuses on the issues related to the age discrimination in employment area as well as pension. Moreover, Age Concern is responsible for influencing mass to build up awareness among common individuals.

Age Concern launched Heyday on 30th May, 2006. There they have conducted the biggest survey which covered the opinions from 10 million people from UK who born within 1940 to 1950 on the issues like ageism, pension and health.

Age concern promoted the law of age discrimination which came into action from 1st October, 2006 in the name of The Employment Equality (Age) Regulation 2006. This law forbids the employer to treat his or her employee less favourably than the other employee on the basis of age only. This applies for retirement, promotion, pension, terms and conditions, and dismissal. Moreover, this law applies to the promotion of further studies which are related to employment as well.
(II) British Youth Council: British Youth Council primarily focuses on the promotion of active and positive health among citizen by influencing their decision making and resource controlling ability. However, the British Youth Council is considered as the voice of young generation, but it also helps in promoting and influencing the impact of ageism or age discrimination.
(III) Help the Aged: Help the Aged is an organization which works to combat against age discrimination, poverty, isolation and negligence experienced by elderly people. Help the Aged have promoted campaigns against age discrimination actively in the health care industries and employment.

This is true that in UK, social services and health care industries have made few progresses in the aspect of age discrimination, whereas, there are plenty of complaints reported for age discrimination primarily by older adults. Organizations like Patient Advice and Liaison Services (PALS) promotes awareness as well as gives advices regarding complaint submission and also conveys details about Independent Complaints and Advocacy Service (ICAS). The Choice of Accommodation Directive entails an individual to select the care home of his or her own preference. If someone becomes unhappy with the services provided by the care home, he or she may appeal for the review in the corresponding area. On the other hand, if an individual is not satisfied with the outcome of the complaints made whatsoever, he or she may appeal to Local Authority Complaints Procedure for further assessment. Still being dissatisfied with the outcome may the individual need the help Local Government Ombudsman.
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1 comment:

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