Aging & Planning

What Are The Effects of Negative Attitudes on Aging?

AARP and The Gerontological Society of America research explores cultural, geographic, community, and family influences

WASHINGTON, July 18, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The ways in which negative attitudes about aging can affect people’s health and quality of life are the focus of 12 peer-reviewed research papers in a new supplemental issue of The Gerontologist — the respected research and analysis journal published by The Gerontological Society of America since 1961.

While the research papers examine a diverse range of aging-related subjects and research considerations, a common theme is the prevalence of negative associations about aging and their impact, ranging from memory performance to use of health care, AARP said. The research explores cultural, geographic, community, and family influences that may play a role in shaping an individual’s attitude on aging.

“Attitudes and stereotypes about aging haven’t changed with the times or have gotten worse,” AARP Director of Thought Leadership Health Erwin Tan, MD said. “Too often, the way aging is portrayed in the media or even in conversations among families and friends is negative and out of synch with the lives many older people lead.”

“Wherever these negative perceptions come from, the damage can be profound — for individuals, communities, and larger populations,” said AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins, whose book Disrupt Aging examines how aging is represented in society. “We need to change the conversation about age and aging in this country. This is not about being ‘polite,’ it’s a necessity. ”

In addition to elevating a collection of timely and insightful research, the August supplement to The Gerontologist has a broader goal, Jenkins said. “We seek to enlist the aid of gerontologists in helping to change the conversation about what it means to grow older. Additionally, we want to remind gerontologists of the critical role they play, not just in academia, but in people’s real lives. We are all aging, every day so there is no more mainstream topic than aging,” she said.

Article Extracts

  • Disrupt Aging: A Call to Action for Gerontologists 
    Jo Ann C. Jenkins, BS
    As an organization representing nearly 38 million people, AARP strives to ensure that Americas aged 50 years and older have access to the care, information, and services they need to lead healthier lives with independence and dignity. To achieve this, AARP believes it’s time to Disrupt Aging. We want to change the conversation in this country about what it means to grow older. Our goal is to challenge outdated beliefs and stereotypes about aging and spark new solutions so more people can choose how they want to live and age.

    We believe that gerontologists have an important role to play in changing the conversation in this country about what it means to grow older.

  • Age-Stereotype Paradox: Opportunity for Social Change
    Becca R. Levy, PhD
    An age-stereotype paradox has developed in the United States due to factors that would suggest age stereotypes should be increasing in positivity over time; whereas, recent evidence shows they are becoming more negative. Reasons for predicting an increase in positivity are presented, followed by reasons that help to explain why the reverse is occurring. To illustrate the age-stereotype paradox, four domains that help to shape the status of older individuals were selected: health, intergenerational contact, legislation, and social climate. Two proposals are then made for eliminating the paradox by reversing the age-stereotypes negativity trend: establishment of an anti-aging czar and the launching of an aging-rights movement.
  • Couples’ Shared Beliefs About Aging and Implications for Future Functional Limitations
    Shannon T. Mejía, PhD; Richard Gonzalez, PhD

    Purpose of the Study:

    Individual beliefs are known to be predictive of health. This study examines the co-construction of couple norms and links couples’ shared beliefs about aging to future individuals’ and couples’ functional limitations.
    Design and Methods:
    Data from the 2008 and 2014 waves of the Health and Retirement Study (1,231 couples; age range = 51–90) were analyzed using latent variables that estimated shared and individual variance in beliefs about aging in 2008 and functional limitations at follow-up in 2014. Spouses’ individual processes of physical activity and disease burden were modeled to contribute to couples’ shared beliefs about aging and subsequent functional limitations. Models progressively controlled for indicators of partner selection, couples’ shared health experiences, and similarities and differences in age.

    Wherever these negative perceptions come from, the damage can be profound

    Couples’ beliefs about aging predicted future functional limitations. The effect magnitude decreased but remained significant in all models. Physical activity predicted couples’ future functional limitations but was largely explained by shared health experiences and similarities and differences in age for wives and husbands, respectively. Disease burden contributed to couples’ shared beliefs about aging. Husbands’ contributions were explained by partner selection, but wives’ contributions remained significant in all models. The effect of couples’ shared beliefs on change in couples’ functional limitations was explained by couples’ shared health experiences.

    Beliefs about aging and health occur within the context of close relationships and shared experiences. Knowledge of couples’ beliefs and health is necessary to support their individual and collective efforts to age successfully together.

    See all article extracts, with links to full articles, here.


    About AARP
    AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, with a membership of nearly 38 million that helps people turn their goals and dreams into ‘Real Possibilities’ by changing the way America defines aging. With staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, AARP works to strengthen communities and promote the issues that matter most to families such as healthcare security, financial security and personal fulfillment. AARP also advocates for individuals in the marketplace by selecting products and services of high quality and value to carry the AARP name. As a trusted source for news and information, AARP produces the world’s largest circulation magazine, AARP The Magazine and AARP Bulletin. AARP does not endorse candidates for public office or make contributions to political campaigns or candidates. To learn more, visit or follow @aarp and our CEO @JoAnn_Jenkins on Twitter.