Debunking the ‘Elderly Mystique’ in News Media Assignment | Top Essay Writing

Instructions: Please the news should be Canadian based
Find 1 news story that falsely portrays older persons. That is, find a news item that depicts a stereotype of older persons that is not supported by academic research. Then respond to the following questions:
Describe the news story in terms of its content and how older persons or aging is presented. What is the underlining stereotype communicated in the message of the news story? How does this relate to ageism?
Using the Bow Valley College RGO Library Database, search for 1 academic peer reviewed journal article that ‘debunks’ the stereotype (2010 to present). Present evidence from the research that suggests the news story is not supported by academic research.
Reflecting on the news story, use one of the theoretical perspectives explaining ageism outlined in Chapter 2 of the textbook (p. 40-45) to discuss why ageism persists. Based on the theoretical analysis, how could ageism be reduced?

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A. Textbook Reading: Chapter 2 (p.36-50) “Population Aging, Ageism, and Intergenerational Relations” (Funk, 2016)

B. How to Find Scholarly Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles. View the Library & Learning Commons site to learn about academic peer-reviewed sources and how to search for them

C. Search SocINDEX with Full Text. Search this database to find sociological academic journal articles with access to the full text


Sociological Perspectives on Aging

Sociological Perspectives for Explaining Ageism

in Canadian Society

Social Psychological Theories of Socialization

Why do negative attitudes about and discrimination towards older persons

persist in Canada? From a psychological perspective, it has been suggested

that ageism is rooted in a pervasive, cross-cultural existential fear of death,

because older people are a symbolic reminder of our mortality (Martens,

Goldenberg, & Greenberg, 2005). Dominant explanations, however, draw

on social psychological theories of socialization and social learning, primarily

at the individual level. Essentially, this perspective focuses on how

negative age stereotypes are learned through socialization—especially in

childhood, but across the life course—and how this shapes our beliefs and

behaviour towards older adults.5

More broadly, we might consider some of the sources of these stereotypes

in wider society and culture (see, for example, Figure 2.5). We might,

for example, highlight the absence or negative portrayal of many older adults

in Hollywood films, which tend to exaggerate the burdens and fears involved

in aging and loss (Chivers, 2011). Other researchers have examined negative

depictions of aging—and constructions of older persons as a distinct

Figure 2.5 Scenes on the animated television series The Simpsons that contain the character

Grampa Simpson feature a lot of ageist humour. Do you think the show uses humour to expose

and challenge ageist stereotypes, or does it reinforce them?

© Photos 12 / Alamy


2 Population Aging, Ageism, and Intergenerational Relations 41

other “group”—in birthday cards (Ellis & Morrison, 2005); social media

(Levy, Chung, Bedford, &Navrazhina, 2014); products and marketing of

the anti-aging industry (Calasanti, 2005; see Chapter 3); and political, government,

and lay media discourse (Bytheway& Johnson, 1990), including

public discourse depicting older populations as a burden (as noted earlier in

this chapter).

North American culture in particular, as with many modern industrial

cultures, tends to idealize youth, health, and independence, which may further

bolster negative views of aging (Calasanti, 2005). Indeed, it is commonly

assumed that other (non-Western, more collectivist) cultures have

less ageism, as well as less neglect and abuse, and more respect and reverence

for older generations. Traditional Chinese cultures, for example, have

tended to emphasize the importance of filial piety within families—this

concept extends beyond the idea of caring for parents to include obeying

them, showing deference, and honouring one’s ancestors. As another

example, those socialized within Greek and Brazilian cultures may view the

institutionalization of an older adult as a form of abuse (Daskalopoulos&

Kakouros, 2006; Patterson & Malley-Morrison, 2006).

In fact, the assumption that other cultures are less ageist often relies

on considerations of familial values towards older family members and the

extent of family-based care they would provide. For instance, a participant I

interviewed for one study stated the following:

It’s a real shame that people don’t hold the same standards as Japanese people.

My daughter spent a year in Japan and said it’s unbelievable—the family stays

together! They live together and they have it dead-on right! She said here we’re

screwed up about it, and stick our elderly people away! (Funk, 2010, p. 81)

In other words, we tend to draw conclusions about attitudes towards older

persons based on whether or not families provide support for them and to a

lesser extent based on whether or not our society supports them (e.g., through

public programs).

It is also commonly assumed that many Aboriginal cultures share a

common emphasis on respect for older persons. However, although Elders

in Aboriginal cultures such as First Nations communities in Canada are

well respected, this is not necessarily because of their old age but rather

due to other characteristics they possess, such as spiritual leadership—not

all Elders are old (see Chapter 8). There tends to be, however, a high value

placed on collective responsibility in First Nations communities in Canada,

yet there is a lack of research on caregiving interpretations in this population

(see Chapter 8). One exception is a study by Crosato, Ward-Griffin, and

Leipert (2007), who reported that a group of Aboriginal women they spoke

with viewed care for the elderly as an expected part of their culture and life


42 Sociological Perspectives on Aging

course, and the women felt honoured to assume the role; however, these

women also emphasized the importance of additional sources of support.

Caution is needed to avoid drawing erroneous conclusions or overly

idealizing the status of older persons in other cultures. Older persons in

non-Western cultural groups can still experience family abuse or neglect,

for instance (Dong, Simon, &Gorbien, 2007; Lai, 2011; Yan & Tang, 2001).

Several studies have explored attitudes towards and stereotypes of older persons

across different cultural groups, generally reporting more consistency

of these stereotypes and perceptions across cultures than we might normally

assume (Cuddy, Norton, & Fiske, 2005; Eyetsemitan, Gire, Khaleefa, &

Satiardama, 2003; Huang, 2013; Musaiger& D’Souza, 2009).

Much of the misunderstanding about ageism in other cultures and in the

past is in part due to our tendency to conflate “caring for” (and co-residence

in multigenerational households) with “caring about.” Even where differences

in cultural values are noted, the actual practice of supporting older adults

(within families, at least) often differs less than we might assume (Sheng

& Settles, 2006). Additionally, to the extent that cultural ideals of family

relationships and responsibilities are shifting in both Western and Eastern

cultures, this may be less related to the influence of individualistic cultural

beliefs and ageism, and more related to how families adapt to actual changes

in the capacities of individuals to meet the needs of older family members

(see Chapter 7). Similarly, research by Lan (2002) suggests that filial

norms, though not necessarily weakened when Chinese families immigrate to

America, are renegotiated and redefined by adult children who are faced with

a restricted ability to fulfill the traditional norms (e.g., due to employment).

From the dominant social psychological or social learning perspective,

eliminating ageism requires changing the social and cultural norms and

stereotypes about aging—and thereby attitudes and beliefs about aging—

through increased circulation of positive ideals and images of aging. For

example, this approach is advocated in a recent report by the Special Senate

Committee on Aging (Carstairs & Keon, 2009), which proposes a public

relations campaign that portrays healthy older persons active in volunteering,

educational activities, and physical exercise. In fact, a review by Zhang

et al. (2006) of advertising images of aging in the United States, United

Kingdom, China, Germany, and India suggested that such images are

increasingly becoming more positive, albeit in limited representation overall.

Although it is important to challenge negative attitudes towards aging

and older adults, K. E. McHugh (2003) cautions against positive ageism: an

overemphasis on positive images of aging, which can inadvertently devalue

and actually stigmatize older persons who cannot meet this ideal (i.e., as

being a failure). In other words, a more diverse representation of the realities

of later life may be needed. For instance, Stephen Katz (2012), in writing

about the relatively negative images of aging in Hollywood films, suggests

2 Population Aging, Ageism, and Intergenerational Relations 43

that audiences must demand more varied representations of old age, “more

than just pity, comedy, derision, decline, sadness, and horror” (p. 255).

Social learning theorists have also suggested a need to change the

beliefs of children and young adults in particular, through early socialization

processes; in this respect, promoting positive interaction and socialization

experiences between older and younger generations may be another

means of reducing ageism. Authors of one study (Allan & Johnson, 2009),

for instance, suggested that contact with older persons reduced younger

persons’ anxiety about aging, which in turn reduced ageist beliefs. This

idea aligns with broader-level theories that connect individual ageism to a

societal-wide tendency to separate or segregate younger and older generations,

an idea that will be returned to in the following sections (Hagestad&

Uhlenberg, 2005; Riley, Kahn, &Foner, 1994).

Modernization Theory and Social Change

Modernization theory suggests that declines in the status of older persons—

and increases in ageism—are connected to various processes associated with

societal industrialization. This reflects a structural-functionalist approach

in sociology, because the value of older persons is conceptualized as being

directly related to whether they contribute to the appropriate functioning

of society. Current discussions about modernization theory (e.g., Aboderin,

2004) tend to focus on the ways that industrialization affects family-level

exchanges of support, which are often viewed as reflecting the status of older

persons or ageism in particular societies.

Cowgill and Holmes (1972) explained that new technologies and

increased standards of living contribute to increased life expectancy, which

in turn leads to intergenerational competition for jobs. The societal response

was to develop the institution of retirement, yet this had the ultimate effect

of lowering the status and income of older persons. As job requirements

increasingly required the development of new skills, universal education was

introduced, which further devalued older persons’ knowledge (e.g., because

everyone could obtain this knowledge). With industrialization, companies

also reorganized their work practices and introduced technology to increase

profits, which meant that particular jobs became obsolete—younger people

were introduced into the new jobs because they were the most recently

hired, and obsolete jobs tended to be those in which older persons worked.

With increasing urbanization and the development of large cities, families

became more dispersed geographically, leading older persons to have more

peripheral family roles. Modernization theory has been critiqued in many

respects, especially for idealizing older persons’ situations in the past and

other less industrialized societies. For instance, Rhoads (1984) concluded

that despite modernization within Samoan society, traditional cultural values

of age as enhancing social status persisted. Nonetheless, modernization


44 Sociological Perspectives on Aging

theory remains an important example of a sociological perspective, in that

it seeks to examine how the nature of society and social change shape our

beliefs about and behaviours towards older persons. However, it provides

little in the way of productive solutions for changing ageism in industrialized


Further, contemporary sociologists suggest that countries that have

already moved through the industrial era are now moving into a distinct

post-industrial society (or postmodern society). Generally, this is said to

be characterized by the loosening of traditional social and cultural (and agerelated)

norms along with expanding choices available for individuals across

their life course (as a result, for example, of new technologies, rising affluence,

and changing norms), whether in family relationships and child-bearing,

leisure and lifestyle, occupational and retirement trajectories, and so on.

In this context, older persons may have greater freedom from aging-related

cultural and biological constraints; old age may no longer have meaning

for identities. What are the implications of this kind of society for ageism?

Higgs and Jones (2009) note the potential, from this perspective, for positive

implications: “age could be released from the negative status that currently

blights it and ageing identities could be constructed and reconstructed in

playful and self-conscious ways” (p. 61).

Riley, Kahn, and Foner (1994) would agree that technological innovation

and social change have increased the capabilities of older persons and

enhanced life-course possibilities. However, their perspective differs in

maintaining that our society, as it is currently structured, still offers few

meaningful social role opportunities for older persons in society, and that

social norms, expectations, and existing social institutions have been slow

to change: this, they maintain, represents a kind of societal inflexibility or

structural lag. Indeed, we noted earlier in this chapter how ageist ideas can

become institutionalized into existing policies and practices; these in particular

can be difficult to change. The Ontario Human Rights Commission

(n.d.) suggests that existing institutional barriers to older persons should be

identified and removed, and that to fully address ageism, “the age diversity

that exists in society should be reflected in design stages for policies,

programs, services, facilities and so forth so that physical, attitudinal and

systemic barriers are not created.”

Critical Gerontology and Political Economy

From a critical theoretical perspective, ageism is not simply the result of ageist

attitudes and their subsequent institutionalization, but is in fact rooted in

and generated by broader social structures—in particular, within our political

(neoliberal) and economic (capitalist) systems. Historically, for example,

mandatory retirement policies that required older persons to retire at age 65

were created in part to help employers remove a segment of their workforce


2 Population Aging, Ageism, and Intergenerational Relations 45

that tended to be more expensive because the older workers were more experienced

(e.g., cumulative pay raises over time; this will be discussed more in

Chapter 5). By institutionalizing retirement in this way, these policies “constructed

a social group of people termed ‘the elderly’ who have been systematically

denied certain rights and privileges including the right to participate

in paid employment” (Bytheway& Johnson, 1990, p. 29).

McMullin and Marshall (2001) examined workers’ reported experiences

of age discrimination within Montreal’s garment industry, which had

been under considerable pressures to increase profits in the global market.

From the authors’ perspective, employers’ intimidation of workers, which

appeared to be based on their age, was in fact motivated more by their desire

to push out certain workers that were viewed as problematic for company

profits (e.g., they filed too many union grievances). The authors further suggest

that older workers in many ways themselves inadvertently reinforced

ageist beliefs about differences between themselves and younger workers.

For instance, older workers referred to their age as limiting their ability to

be more productive, often without realizing the broader forces increasing

their workload pressures—garment industry companies have increasingly

contracted out easier work to save costs, such that the work that remains is

more complex and time-consuming (McMullin & Marshall, 2001).

A critical gerontological perspective tends to reverse the commonly

held assumption that ageism creates age-based stratification or inequality

in society. Rather, the perspective is one that begins with the existence of

social stratification and then suggests that to justify inequality and hold onto

their dominant positions, more powerful (“ruling”) social groups influence

existing systems in a way that constructs and reinforces difference to their

own advantage. This process excludes and oppresses others, including older

persons, women, ethnic minorities, and workers. Further examples will be

provided in Chapter 6, when we discuss the concept of social exclusion.

From a critical gerontological perspective, addressing ageism requires broad

changes to our political system and even to our economic system; at the

very least, public programs, policies, and collective action to address class

and other inequalities may be required. In the next section, we will expand

on some of these ideas as we address the contributions of two particular

concepts to understanding the status of older persons: age relations and age



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