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On the origins of ageism among older and younger adults

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 July 2009

Ehud Bodner*
Interdisciplinary Department of Social Sciences, and Music Department, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel
Correspondence should be addressed to: Dr. Ehud Bodner, Interdisciplinary Department of Social Sciences, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel52900. Phone: +972 3 5318276; Fax: +972 3 5353329. Email:


Background: Ageism is apparent in many social structures and contexts and in diverse forms over the life cycle. This review discusses the development and consequences of ageism toward elderly people by others of any age, according to the Terror Management Theory (TMT) and the Social Identity Theory (SIT).

Method: A systematic search of the literature was carried out on the social and psychological origins of ageism in younger and older adults.

Results: Studies on the reasons for ageism among older adults point to attitudes that older adults have toward their own age group, while studies on ageism in young adults explain it as an unconscious defensive strategy which younger adults use against death anxiety. In other words, TMT can serve as a suitable framework for ageism in younger adults, and SIT appears to explain ageism in older adults.

Conclusions: A dissociation of the linkage between death and old age in younger adults can be achieved by changing the concepts of death and old age. For older adults, it is recommended to improve self-worth by encouraging social contacts in which older adults contribute to younger adults, weaken the effects of age stereotypes in TV programs, and prepare middle-aged adults for living healthy lives as older adults. However, these conclusions should be regarded with caution, because several key areas (age related cues, activated cognitive processes, impact of death awareness on ageism) need to be investigated in order to validate this understanding of the origins of ageism among younger and older adults.

Review Article
Copyright © International Psychogeriatric Association 2009

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