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Stereotypes About Age And Older Persons, Why Ageism Exists In American Culture, The Role Of The Media In Supporting Ageism

The term ageism refers to a deep and profound prejudice against the elderly (Butler). In simple terms, ageism occurs when people stereotype others based on old age. Ageism occurs throughout society in varying degrees, in television, advertising, movies, stores, hospitals, and jobs.

Ageism is a process of stereotyping and discriminating against people because they are old. From a definitional perspective, ageism is like racism or sexism in that it treats people differently based on stereotypes about a group. While most people have a general knowledge or understanding of the history of racism or sexism, their understanding of "ageism" is likely to be limited to jokes about aging, greeting cards, or senior discounts that provide benefits for reaching a certain age.

Ageism as a term and as a process to be studied is relatively new, an ironic twist for the study of how society views getting old. Most studies of ageist attitudes tend to focus on its negative aspects. However, ageism can also have a positive perspective, such as when the attributes of age are deemed advantageous. For example, a positive view perceives an association between aging and greater wisdom, patience, and an enhanced appreciation of life's benefits.

Ageism can be intentional, meaning a deliberate process of thought and action to stereotype based on age. More commonly, it is inadvertent, when people unconsciously attribute certain characteristics to a person because of his or her age. In daily social interactions, ageism typically occurs without much notice or concern.

To understand ageism, one must understand the process of stereotyping. A stereotype is a well-learned set of associations that link a set of characteristics with a group. Stereotypes differ from personal beliefs, which are propositions that are endorsed and accepted as true. While all individuals learn about cultural stereotypes through socialization, only a subset of people endorse the stereotype and believe it to be true.

People respond to each other almost automatically using stereotypes based on race, age, and gender. Perceptions and judgments about others are made instantaneously, without conscious thought or effort, which is why stereotypes remain insidious. Stereotypes typically exaggerate certain characteristics of some members of a group and attribute the negative characteristic to aging. They do not recognize that individual characteristics vary greatly and also change over time.

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