Societal Views on Aging 

What do you think comes to mind when people see the term elderly? Do they picture themselves helping kind older women across the street or perhaps reading to a room full of people at the local nursing home? 

Sadly, society’s views on aging have changed dramatically in recent years. Rather than helping elderly family members as they progress through their latter stage of life, many people view them as a burden. 

 But was it always this way — and is there anything we can do to change the current societal views on aging? Join us as we break down the good, the bad and the ugly of ageism in the United States and beyond and what you can do to positively impact the elderly community. 

What Is Ageism — And Is It the Same Around the Globe? 

Ageism refers to the social prejudice that people sometimes experience based on their age. For example, some individuals in their teens or early 20s won’t receive an interest-free credit card because they’re young and “inexperienced” when it comes to handling their finances. 

Similarly, older adults experience various degrees of age bias. Sometimes, family members assume their elderly family members aren’t competent enough to drive their car. Other times, someone will insist on helping them complete a task that they believe they’re not strong enough to complete on their own. 

But is ageism practiced similarly around the world, or are certain cultures more prone to conforming to stereotypes against the elderly?  

Western societies like our own often focus more heavily on the glory and benefits of youth and are less likely to prioritize taking care of older family members as they age. On the other hand, certain Asian cultures practice a strong tradition of Confucian values, which loosely consist of:  

  • Promoting positive views of aging 
  • Teaching young people to respect and care for their elders 

But do Asian cultures really have a different perception of older adults than that of their American counterparts? 

A 2017 study found that Taiwanese students had a more negative view of the elderly than students from the United Kingdom. Another study with equal numbers of Thai and American students showed that the Thai students felt a more negative attitude toward older adults. While people in Eastern cultures are often still raised to have a positive view of their elders, they must contemplate several challenging factors that shape their negative perceptions, including the legal responsibilities and logistical challenges that caregiving sometimes bring with it. 

So, while there’s no black-and-white answer, the findings of those studies lean toward the notion that both Western and Eastern cultures have a neutral to negative mindset regarding aging adults. This could be due to several factors, including:  

  • Advertisements for medications portraying older people as weak or incapable of completing certain activities. 
  • Television shows and movies shining a negative light on the elderly and the aging process. 

What People Really Think of the Elderly and Aging 

In the U.S., it’s not hard to find proof of how youth-obsessed our society can be. From TV shows with young and attractive casts to the 16.7 billion dollars that were spent on cosmetic procedures in the U.S. in 2020, it’s evident that much of society finds it exceedingly important to cling to their youth. 

But does this mean that society fears aging? Does it suggest that we’re biased against the older community as a whole? 

That’s exactly what a 2017 study by Raqota Berger sought to find out. The study consisted of 154 participants of varying race, gender and age. During the research, Berger asked questions about each person’s attitudes, concerns and feelings toward aging and the elderly. A few notable statistics from the research included the following: 

  • 57% of participants believe that we live in a society that doesn’t respect the elderly. 
  • 76% said they have a positive view of older people. 
  • 40% said they fear getting old. 
  • 39% prefer to be around younger people. 
  • 14% said they never associate with any elderly people.

The study also showed the participants’ greatest concerns about aging: 

  • 19.5% are concerned about declining health. 
  • 16.9% feel worried about a decline in their physical appearance. 
  • 11.7% are concerned about their loss of independence. 

Become an Advocate for Older Adults through the University of Florida 

In 2019, the number of residents in 65+ communities reached 54.1 million in the United States. By 2040, that number is projected to be 80.8 million people — a substantial increase. With a quickly growing elderly population, there’s a higher need for gerontologists and geriatricians now and in the future. 

If you value the importance of helping older adults as they navigate a world that doesn’t always prioritize their health and needs, consider jump-starting your career with one of the University of Florida’s online graduate programs in aging. 

Our master’s degree in gerontology is a 36-credit, non-thesis program that provides you with a comprehensive curriculum covering all aspects of aging, from the biological to the psychological and everything in between. In contrast, our master’s degree in medical physiology and aging is a 30-credit program that focuses on the physiological changes that occur as humans age and the diagnosis and treatment of diseases caused by aging. 

 In addition to being 100% online, both programs also offer the following advantages: 

  • Earning your master’s degree in as little as one year 
  • Completing the courses on your timeline, at your convenience 
  • Learning skills from an updated curriculum that ties in with the latest industry research and trends 

Take your passion to the next level and make a difference in the elderly community by applying to one of UF’s online graduate programs in gerontology.