Thursday, November 1, 2012
The Formation of Age Stereotypes[i]
Ageism in a Snow Bank: Walking along a snow-clogged street, a 60-year-old woman saw a car up ahead spinning its wheels. The woman assisted by adding her weight to the back of the vehicle and successfully pushed the car out. With the car now free, the young man was eager to thank the helper. As he rolled down the window, his jaw dropped at the sight of the older woman who had come to his rescue.
The topics of physical activity, aging and social stereotyping are especially relevant to modern times because without an awareness of the connections between them, we continue to neglect the potential for all people to enjoy full lives.. Everyone wants to live a long and healthy life, but no one wants to “grow old.” And no one wants to work at staying young. That is the first thought about aging –⎯ no one wants to be old. Why? Because aging has long been blamed as the cause of a “disablement process” (Verbrugge & Jette, 1994). There is a perception that older people will invariably experience disabilities and various diseases as a direct result of aging.
Other stereotypes include that most older people aren’t employed, don’t do much, have nothing interesting to talk about, and don’t have much fun. The older they get, the grumpier people seem. Older adults are seen by some as caught up in their own health concerns and full of complaints about how terrible the world is becoming. Their bodies seem to be falling apart, and many don’t like the contemporary world. Older adults don’t particularly like the noise and antics of younger people, and so choose to live in segregated communities where they can have a peaceful retirement away from the fast pace of community life.
Well, these things may be true of some older adults, but for many, it is a stereotype. Such thoughts are expressions of ageism ⎯ the differential treatment of people according to age. The self-segregation of older and younger members of society keeps their unique lives secret, and promotes generational estrangement and ignorance. Ageism thrives when older people and younger people don’t live, work or play together. What if a 44 year old man wanted to play on a youth hockey team? Would this be objectionable? What if the middle-aged man was Wayne Gretzky? Who would want a grandfather on their community soccer team? Well, you would be
February 2005 www.alcoa.ca
Overcoming Ageism in Active Living sorry not to have Brazilian star Pele as a player on your community team – he just happens to be 61. How about Geoff Henwood? He started gymnastics classes just a few years ago, and he is not 6 years old. He is not 8 years old. He is 86!
The above individuals are examples of how men can aspire to maintain performance in fitness and sport even into advanced age. There are some exceptional older women too, but ageism judges women more harshly (Vertinsky, 1995). In active living settings, older women generally experience a double whammy of ageism combined with sexism. Indeed, today’s older woman may have acquired some sport skills, but even if she was very fit, until recently, there was no soccer team for her. Her place in society is already prescribed, and she knows people will think “she is off her rocker” if she plays soccer. Generally we think that an elderly woman should be a nice grandmother, sit in her chair, read or watch TV, and play with the grandchildren whenever they happen to come over. Anyway, no older women ever want to play soccer... or do they?