Attitudes about Aging and Ageism: AARP Research

Satisfaction with life tied to attitudes to aging


AARP The Magazine has published findings from research commissioned regarding the attitudes of aging and the impact of the prejudices of aging (ageism).  We dug into the research because at AprilAge, we deal with the impact of "visualizing the future", or how someone will look as they age, every day.  Our APRIL® Face Aging software is used in more than 25 countries as a catalyst for discussion about disease prevention, healthy lifestyle choices, and the impact of appearance as a behavior modification tool in health education.

The qualitative research delved into feelings and perceptions about aging including:

- What defines age?  Is it the way one looks or the way one feels?

- The impact of the prejudices of aging (ageism)

- How social connectedness and technology impact perceptions of aging

The research surveyed 1800 adults, 40+ years of age, split evenly among women and men.  The complete findings can be found here, but here are a few of the highlights:

-  If speaking to an age cohort, "old" gets defined as 10 - 15 years older than that cohort.

- Men and women define "old" for women differently.  Men say women are "old" at  68 while women say women are "old" at 75.

- If speaking to someone based on health, those in poorer health feel that "old" starts a lot earlier (60s vs. 70s).

The definition of "old" aside, the research found that the attitudes one has around aging impacts satisfaction with life.  Most significantly, "aging is just another part of life" (89%) and "having a purpose in life" (83%) are two significant drivers of overall satisfaction with life.  A wide gap in satisfaction with life was unearthed "the more one believes that their life has made a difference (80% vs. 33%)".  Additionally, the more one is accepting of themselves as they grow old, the more satisfied with life they are" (78% vs. 48%).

But what about appearance?  One key question about how others react to, and treat one based on how old they appear revealed the following findings:

- Actual physical appearance features are not factors impacting satisfaction with life.  However, it was the reaction/treatment from others based on the perception of one's age that has the most significance.  Interestingly, the older one gets, the less impact it has.  How the survey respondents felt about physical appearance was reflected in the following:

a.  I am concerned about how people will treat me when you get older (28%)

b.  I feel old when someone younger calls me ma'am or sir (28%)

Sadly, women and those in poorer health are significantly more impacted by these attitudes.

In short, how satisfied someone is with their life as a whole was most closely tied with "growth and having a purpose in life" and overall health.  Those who rated their health good are almost twice as satisfied with life (84%) compared to those who rated their health poorer (44%).  And, while feeling persist that American society is driven from a perspective of youth, over 40% feel that things are better as they grow older.


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