Older adults get more respect in Japan and China and less in more individualistic nations like the US and Germany, according to a pair of studies that show age bias, or ageism, varies among countries and even US states.
“Older adults are one of the only stigmatized groups that we all become part of some day. And that’s always struck me as interesting—that we would treat so poorly a group of people that we’re destined to become someday,” says William Chopik, assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University and author of the studies. “Making more equitable environments for older adults are even in younger people’s self-interests.”
While aging is looked at as something that’s inevitable and a part of everyone’s life, it’s viewed very differently around the world and in different environments—which could prove detrimental for people’s health and well-being.
For both studies, the researchers gauged public sentiment and biases toward aging by administering the Implicit Association Test—which measures the strength of a person’s subconscious associations—on over 800,000 total participants in each study from the Project Implicit database.
Less ageism in collectivist countries
The first study examined which countries around the world showed the greatest implicit bias against older adults. The study, the largest of its kind, appears in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
“In some countries and cultures, older adults fare better, so a natural question we had was whether the people living in different countries might think about older adults and aging differently. And, maybe that explains why societies are so different in the structures put in place to support older adults,” Chopik says.
“In ageist cultures, people tended to report feeling particularly younger than their actual age.”
Collectivistic countries like Japan, China, Korea, India, and Brazil—which tend to focus on group cohesion and harmony—had much less of a bias toward older people than individualistic countries.
Individualistic countries like United States, Germany, Ireland, South Africa, and Australia tend to stress independence and forging one’s own identity. In addition to having greater age biases, the findings also reveal that individualistic countries are more focused on maintaining active, youthful appearances.
“Countries that showed high bias also showed an interesting effect when you asked people how old they felt. In ageist cultures, people tended to report feeling particularly younger than their actual age,” Chopik says.
“We interpreted this as something called age-group dissociation—or, feeling motivated to distance yourself from that group. People do this is by identifying with younger age groups, lying about their age, and even saying that they feel quantitatively younger than they actually are.”
Most biased US states
The second study, the only one of its kind, focused on individual states across the US to see which demonstrated the most age bias, as well as how this bias was associated with health outcomes. The findings appear in European Journal of Social Psychology. Hannah L. Giasson, a postdoctoral scholar from Stanford University, is a coauthor.
“We found a strange pattern in which some popular retirement destinations tended to be higher in age bias, like Florida and the Carolinas.”
The states with the highest age bias were mostly in the Southern and the Northeastern US. Additionally, many of most-biased states tended to have the worst outcomes and life expectancies for older adults.
“We found a strange pattern in which some popular retirement destinations tended to be higher in age bias, like Florida and the Carolinas,” Chopik says. “Possibly, this could be due to the friction that occurs when there are large influxes and migrations of older adults to regions that are not always best suited to welcome them.”
Additionally, states with higher age bias also tended to have higher Medicare costs, lower community engagement, and less access to care. One reason for the added health expenditures is because older adults with more illnesses cause a higher demand for health resources, Chopik says.
The other reason is that those states might be worse at managing and administering support and funds for older adults. States—and how they treat older adults—likely affect how easily people can acquire these funds and services, he says.
“Both of our studies demonstrate how local environments affect people’s attitudes and the lives of older adults. We grow up in our environments and they shape us in pretty important ways and in ways we don’t even realize,” Chopik says.
“Being exposed to policies and attitudes at a country level can shape how you interact with older adults. At the state level in the United States, how you treat older adults has important implications for them—for example, their health and how long older people live—and even the economy, like how much money we spend on older adults’ health care.”
Source: Michigan State University