When we think of stereotypes, we may think of the negative impacts on the targeted group’s self-esteem, mental health, and self-perception. However, research in the last couple of decades has demonstrated that stereotypes, and general discrimination, can affect the target’s physical health. In more recent times, researchers have begun looking at a specific breed of stereotype: age-based discrimination, or ageism. Researchers have found that in terms of major incidents of ageism, there is an association with poorer physical health and well-being among older adults. Now researchers from the University of Michigan set out to look at how everyday ageism (as opposed to major, but infrequent, ageism) may affect the health of US older adults. The researchers cite comments about a “senior moment” or the barrage of antiaging commercials as examples of everyday ageism.
In this study, researchers recruited a representative sample of 2,035 older adults (aged 50 to 80) from the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging (NPHA) study. In the survey the participants completed, they reviewed measures like the Everyday Ageism Scale, sociodemographic characteristics, and health outcomes (differing measures on physical and mental health). In their analyses, researchers found three major themes: 93% of the participants experienced some form of ageism every day, but it differed based on age (ages 65 to 80 reported more everyday ageism), gender (women reported more), and area (adults in rural areas reported more everyday ageism). They also found that everyday ageism was associated with poor physical and mental health, the number of chronic health conditions, and depressive symptoms.
Researchers believe this is an indicator that everyday ageism, although not as abrasive as major episodes of ageism, may be chronic and pervasive in the lives of older adults, thus continually and constantly affecting older adults negatively. Researchers believe that distinguishing health outcomes attributable to aging from health outcomes attributable to ageism is a challenge for future research. Changing societal attitudes around aging, and thus reducing ageism, may prove even more difficult. But the impact of doing so could be life altering.
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Allen, J. O., Solway, E., Kirch, M., Singer, D., Kullgren, J. T., Moïse, V., & Malani, P. N. (2022). Experiences of Everyday Ageism and the Health of Older US Adults. JAMA Network Open, 5(6), e2217240-e2217240. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2793359