Which Countries Have the Most Positive Age Stereotypes?

Cultures around the world differ in how they refer to older adults, but is this due to the proportion of older adults in the population, or due to other specific cultural traits?

To find out, researchers first identified the most and least ageist countries. They utilized a database of over 7,000 web-based news sources from 20 countries around the world where English is widely used. They used 1.75 billion words from a single year to compile the top 300 words that co-occurred with the terms “aged,” “elderly,” or “old people.” Depending on the number of co-occurring words related to positive or negative age stereotypes, a country could be considered more or less ageist.

The only three countries that had more positive age stereotypes were Sri Lanka, followed by Ghana and Tanzania. The other 17 countries tended to have more negative ageist attitudes, with the UK as most negative, followed by a cluster of India, Bangladesh, Canada, the US, and Kenya.

The researchers then compared these agism scores with demographic and cultural dimension data from each country.

They found that agism was not related to the proportion of older adults in the population or speed of aging population growth. However, greater long-term orientation and greater  masculinity cultural dimensions were associated with greater agism. For reference, Ghana had the lowest long-term orientation score and Sri Lanka had the lowest masculinity score—these were also the two least ageist countries.

Long-term orientation refers to the extent a society supports delaying gratification of life goals. Theoretically, societies higher in long-term orientation would invest more in younger individuals since they have potential to provide more return in the long run.

In highly masculine societies, men and women are expected to fill very different emotional roles, while in less masculine/more feminine societies, these roles are more similar. Agism may be greater in these societies because they favor strength and competition, characteristics that are generally not associated with older adults.

Unlike previous research, this study did not find a connection between individualism—the expectation of individuals to rely on themselves and less on family—and agism.

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Ng R and Lim W. Ageism linked to culture, not demographics: Evidence from an 8-billion-word corpus across 20 countries. Journals of Gerontology: Series B (2020); Ahead of print.

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