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The Role Of The Media In Supporting Ageism

Mass media, particularly television and movies, define social roles in contemporary culture by presenting a steady and repetitive portrayal of images and a system of messages. Studies reveal the common perception in the media that youth sells and youth buy. This view causes television shows, movies, and advertisements to feature young characters to bring in large audiences and revenues. The media emphasize youth and beauty, fast-paced action and lives, and overly simplistic portrayals of individuals. This emphasis exacerbates the negative image of aging and the elderly in American culture, because the stereotypes of aging are the antithesis of the attributes upon which television and movies thrive.

The image of aging depicted in the media has generally been one of negative stereotyping, a portrayal that seems to be more negative than any other social group. In American culture, the aged are not depicted as experienced "elders." Rather, older people are tolerated and respected to the extent they can act like younger people and work, exercise, and have healthy relationships.

Research from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, shows a continuing negative portrayal of older persons and the elderly by the media, manifested mostly through comments referring to decline and deterioration in old age.

The media also tend to exclude or severely underrepresent the elderly in the images presented on television compared to the proportion of elderly in the U.S. population. While the population age sixty-five and older represents almost 13 percent of the U.S. population, only about 8 percent of the roles in television commercials in the 1990s were of older persons (Tupper). Older women are almost invisible in prime-time television shows and movies.

Similarly, television advertising, which has a profound effect on influencing and shaping attitudes, repeatedly conveys negative stereotypes by representing older persons as feeble, forgetful, stubborn, and helpless. Repeated exposure to negative stereotypes about aging and the elderly in commercial advertising can lead to a devaluing of the elderly.

Advertisers clearly focus their marketing on younger women who are primarily responsible for household purchases. The common perception among advertising agencies is that younger age groups spend more than older age groups. Recent studies show that while sixty-five to seventy-four-year-old consumers outspend their counterparts in the thirty-five to forty-four-yearold category, ad agency staff ignored older audiences and underappreciated their potential and power as consumers.

Newspapers and magazines generally present neutral images of aging and do not create or support negative images of the elderly in their coverage of stories or in advertisements.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 1Ageism - Stereotypes About Age And Older Persons, Why Ageism Exists In American Culture, The Role Of The Media In Supporting Ageism