Older adults feel good about aging in spite of ageism
A poll of 2,000 people aged 50–80 years reveals their positive views of aging and the negative effects linked to ageism.
Around two-thirds of people over the age of 50 say that life as an older person is better than they thought it would be, according to a new national poll. The survey was undertaken before the COVID-19 pandemic by researchers at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.
The poll of 2,000 adults 50 to 80 years in age finds that 65% of respondents hold a more positive view of aging than they expected to.
The poll also looked at experiences of ageism, in which 82% of those questioned reported encountering.
The survey found that 67% of respondents report that their feelings about aging have become more positive as they have aged.
88% of those questioned feel more comfortable being themselves now they are older, and 80% feel a strong sense of purpose.
Four questions in the survey captured respondents’ views on aging. People who gave positive answers to all four were more likely to report being in excellent or very good physical health than those with fewer positive views (55% versus 30%). In this same group, 84% reported their mental health as excellent or very good.
It also turned out that these people experienced ageism less frequently than others.
The study defines ageism this way:
“Ageism refers to discrimination, prejudice, and stereotyping based on age.”
The researchers further break down ageism into three types:
- Ageist messages: Insulting comments and assumptions.
- Ageism in interpersonal interactions: Presumptions of diminished capabilities in older individuals.
- Internalized ageism: Older people’s undervaluing of themselves.
The poll presented respondents with nine different types of ageism, and asked them to identify those they had personally encountered. Overall, 40% reported experiencing three or more of these forms of ageism. Broken down, this group included:
- 49% of people aged 65 to 80, with 35% of those aged 50 to 64
- 43% of women and 38% of men
- 50% of those with annual incomes below $60,000, with 33% of those with incomes higher than this
Being retired and living in a rural area were also associated with experiencing more forms of ageism.
Of those exposed to more than 4 hours a day of television, the internet, magazines, or all three, 49% reported encountering three or more examples of ageism, compared with 41% of people who consumed such media between 2 and 4 hours a day, and 32% who consumed less than 2 hours per day.
A total of 45% of the respondents said that they had experienced ageism in their interpersonal interactions, including:
- 22% reported that others assumed they would find cellphones and computers difficult to use.
- 17% said that others expected them to have problems with their hearing or seeing.
- 17% found that others considered them to have difficulties remembering or understanding things because of their age.
- 15% encountered assumptions that they didn’t do anything important or valuable.
- 15% were incorrectly assumed to need assistance with tasks they were capable of performing.
In addition, 36% of respondents reported internalized ageism, 29% thought being lonely was a natural part of being older, and 26% said the same about feeling depressed, sad, or worried.
Incidents of ageism were more likely to be reported by those who said they felt they looked older than their age, compared with people who declared their appearance accurately reflected their age (52% vs. 40%). About 1 in 3 respondents invested time and effort in trying to look younger.
Just 34% of those regularly subjected to ageism reported themselves as being in excellent or very good health, as opposed to 49% of those less affected by it.
Those who said they had encountered three or more forms of everyday ageism were more likely to have health issues. Of these, 71% had chronic health issues, such as a heart condition or diabetes, as opposed to 60% of those with less ageism in their lives.
Mental health was also adversely associated with ageism:
- 80% of those without significant exposure to ageism reported being in overall excellent or good mental health, versus 61% of those who frequently dealt with ageism.
- Similarly, 22% of those who reported little experience with ageism described themselves as depressed, as opposed to 49% of those who regularly encountered ageism.
The report summarizes, “Ageism is a product of American culture that should be acknowledged, discussed, and addressed.”
“Increased consideration of how negative stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination toward older people affect responses to major public health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic could present a key opportunity to challenge assumptions that contribute to ageism. Addressing everyday ageism may have far-reaching benefits for the health and well-being of older adults.”