Skip to main content Accessibility help

On the origins of ageism among older and younger adults

  • Ehud Bodner (a1)


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.


Corresponding author

Correspondence should be addressed to: Dr. Ehud Bodner, Interdisciplinary Department of Social Sciences, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel 52900. Phone: +972 3 5318276; Fax: +972 3 5353329. Email:


Hide All
Bengtson, V. and Robertson, J. (eds.) (1985). Grandparenthood. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.
Bodner, E. and Lazar, A. (2008). Ageism among Israeli students: structure and demographic influences. International Psychogeriatrics, 20, 10461058.
Butler, R. N. (1975). Why Survive? Being Old in America. New York: Harper and Row.
Butler, R. N. (1995). Ageism. In Maddox, G. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Aging (pp. 3839). New York: Springer.
Butler, R. N. (2009). Combating ageism. International Psychogeriatrics, 21, 221.
Chasteen, A. L., Schwarz, N. and Park, D. C. (2002). The activation of aging stereotypes in younger and older adults. Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 57, 540547.
Clavan, S. and Vatter, E. (1972). The affiliated family: a device for integrating old and young. Gerontologist, 12, 407412.
Cuddy, A. C., Norton, M. I. and Fiske, S. T. (2005). This old stereotype: the pervasiveness and persistence of the elderly stereotype. Journal of Social Issues, 61, 267285.
Davidovic, M., Djordjevic, Z., Erceg, P., Despotovic, N. and Milosevic, D. P. (2007). Ageism: does it exist among children? Scientific World Journal, 7, 11341139.
Davis-Berman, J. (1998/99). Attitudes toward aging and death anxiety: aging and death class. Omega, 38, 5964.
Devine, P. and Monteith, M. J. (1999). Automaticity and control in stereotyping. In Chaiken, S. and Trope, Y. (eds.), Dual-process Theories in Social Psychology (pp. 339360). New York: The Guilford Press.
Dobrosky, B. J. and Bishop, J. M. (1986). Children's perceptions of old people. Educational Gerontology, 12, 429439.
Donlon, M., Ashman, O. and Levy, B. (2005). Creating a defense against television's ageism. Journal of Social Issues, 61, 307319.
Fung, H. H., Siu, C. M. Y., Choy, W. C. W. and McBride-Chang, C. (2005). Meaning of grandparenthood: do concerns about time and mortality matter? Ageing International, 30, 122146.
Giles, H., McCann, R. M., Ota, H. and Noels, K. A. (2002). Challenging intergenerational stereotypes across Eastern and Western cultures. In Kaplan, M. S., Henkin, N. Z. and Kusano, A. T. (eds.), Linking Lifetimes: A Global View of Intergenerational Exchange (pp. 1328). Honolulu, HI: University Press of America.
Goldenberg, J. L., Heflick, N. A. and Cooper, D. P. (2008). The thrust of the problem: bodily inhibitions and guilt as a function of mortality salience and neuroticism. Journal of Personality, 76, 10551080.
Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T. and Solomon, S. (1986). The causes and consequences of a need for self-esteem: a terror management theory. In Baumeister, R. F. (ed.) Public and Private Self (pp. 189212) New York: Springer.
Greenberg, J. et al. (1990). Evidence for terror management theory. II: The effects of mortality salience on reactions to those who threaten or bolster the cultural worldview. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 308318.
Greenberg, J., Solomon, S. and Pyszczynski, T. (1997). Terror management theory of self-esteem and cultural worldviews: empirical assessments and conceptual refinements. In Zanna, M. P. (ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 29, pp. 61139). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Harwood, J., Hewstone, M., Paolini, S. and Voci, A. (2005). Grandparent-grandchild contact and attitudes towards older adults: moderator and mediator effects. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 393406.
Hausdorff, J. M., Levy, B. R. and Wei, J. Y. (1999). The power of ageism on physical function of older persons: reversibility of age-related gait changes. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 47, 13461349.
Hickey, T., Hickey, L. A. and Kalish, R. A. (1968). Children's perceptions of the elderly. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 112, 227235.
Hirschberger, G., Florian, V. and Mikulincer, M. (2005). Fear and compassion: a terror management analysis of emotional reactions to physical disability. Rehabilitation Psychology, 50, 246257.
Kalavar, J. M. (2001). Examining ageism: do male and female college students differ? Educational Gerontology, 27, 507513.
Kite, M. E. and Wagner, L. S. (2002). Attitudes toward older adults. In Nelson, T. D. (ed.), Ageism: Stereotyping and Prejudice against Older Persons (pp. 129161). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Kite, M. E., Stockdale, G. D., Whitley, B. E. and Johnson, B. T. (2005). Attitudes toward younger and older adults: an updated meta-analytic review. Journal of Social Issues, 61, 241266.
Laditka, S. B., Fischer, M., Laditka, J. N. and Segal, D. R. (2004). Attitudes about aging and gender among young, middle age, and older college based students. Educational Gerontology, 30, 403421.
Lang, F. R. and Carstensen, L. L. (2002). Time counts: future time perspective, goals, and social relationships. Psychology and Aging, 17, 125139.
Levy, B. R. (1996). Improving memory in old age by implicit self stereotyping. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 10921107.
Levy, B. (2003). Mind matters: cognitive and physical effects of aging self stereotypes. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 58, 203211.
Levy, B. R. and Banaji, M. R. (2002). Implicit ageism. In Nelson, T. (ed.), Ageism: Stereotyping and Prejudice against Older Persons (pp. 4975). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Levy, B. R. and Myers, L. M. (2004). Preventive health behaviors influenced by self-perceptions of aging. Preventive Medicine, 39, 625629.
Levy, B. and Schlesinger, M. (2001). Influence of aging self-stereotypes on older individuals' rejecting policy aimed at benefiting the old. Paper presented at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Gerontological Society of America. Chicago.
Levy, B. R., Hausdorff, J., Hencke, R. and Wei, J. Y. (2000). Reducing cardiovascular stress with positive self-stereotypes of aging. Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 55, 205213.
Levy, B. R., Slade, M. D., Kunkel, S. R. and Kasl, S. V. (2002). Longevity increased by positive self-perceptions of aging. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 261270.
Levy, B. R., Slade, M. D. and Gill, T. M. (2006). Hearing decline predicted by elders’ stereotypes. Journals of Gerontology. Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 61, 8287.
Maglio, C. J. and Robinson, S. E. (1994). The effects of death education on death anxiety: a meta-analysis. Omega, 29, 319335.
Martens, A., Greenberg, J., Schimel, J. and Landau, M. J. (2004). Ageism and death: effects of mortality salience and similarity to elders on distancing from and derogation of elderly people. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 15241536.
Martens, A., Goldenberg, J. L. and Greenberg, J. (2005). A terror management perspective on ageism. Journal of Social Issues, 61, 223239.
Matheson, D. H., Collins, C. L. and Kuehne, V. S. (2000). Older adults’ multiple stereotypes of young adults. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 51, 245257.
Maxfield, M. et al. (2007). Age-related differences in responses to thoughts of one's own death: mortality salience and judgments of moral transgressions. Psychology and Aging, 22, 341353.
McCann, R. and Giles, H. (2002). Ageism in the workplace: a communication perspective. In Nelson, T. D. (ed.), Ageism: Stereotyping and Prejudice against Older Persons (pp. 163199). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
McConatha, J. T., Schnell, F., Volkwein, K., Riley, L. and Leach, E. (2003). Attitudes toward aging: a comparative analysis of young adults from the United States and Germany. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 57, 203215.
McCoy, S., Pyszczynski, T., Solomon, S. and Greenberg, J. (2000). Transcending the self: a terror management perspective on successful aging. In Tomer, A. (ed.), Death Attitudes and the Older Adult: Theories, Concepts and Applications (pp. 3764). Philadelphia: Taylor and Francis.
Meshel, D. S. and McGlynn, R. P. (2004). Intergenerational contact, attitudes, and stereotypes of adolescents and other people. Educational Gerontology, 30, 457479.
Montepare, J. M. and Lachman, M. E. (1989). You're only as old as you feel: Self-perceptions of age, fears of aging, and life satisfaction from adolescence to old age, Psychology and Aging, 4, 7378.
Neimeyer, R. A. and van Brant, D. (1995). Death anxiety. In Wass, H. and Neimeyer, R. A.. (eds.), Dying: Facing the Facts, 3rd edn (pp. 4988). Washington, DC: Taylor and Francis.
Nosek, B. A., Banaji, M. and Greenwald, A. G. (2002). Harvesting implicit group attitudes and beliefs from a demonstration web site. Group Dynamics, 6, 101115.
Oyserman, D., Coon, H. and Kemmelmeier, M. (2002). Rethinking individualism and collectivism: evaluation of theoretical assumptions and meta-analyses. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 372.
Page, S., Olivas, R., Driver, J. and Driver, R. (1981). Children's attitudes toward the elderly and aging. Educational Gerontology, 7, 4347.
Palmore, E. B. (2004). Research note: ageism in Canada and the United States. Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology, 19, 4146.
Palmore, E. B., Branch, L. and Harris, D. (eds.) (2005). Encyclopedia of Ageism. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press.
Passuth, P. M. and Cook, F. L. (1985). Effects of television viewing on knowledge and attitudes about older adults: a critical reexamination. Gerontologist, 25, 6977.
Pyszczynski, T., Greenberg, J., Solomon, S., Cather, C., Gat, I. and Sideris, J. (1995). Defensive distancing from victims of serious illness: the role of delay. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21, 1320.
Rupp, D., Vodanovich, S. and Crede, M. (2005). The multidimensional nature of ageism: construct validity and group differences. Journal of Social Psychology, 145, 335362.
Seefeldt, C., Jantz, R. K., Galper, A. and Serock, K. (1977). Using pictures to explore children's attitudes toward the elderly. Gerontologist, 17, 506512.
Shmotkin, D., Blumstein, T. and Modan, B. (2003). Beyond keeping active: concomitants of being a volunteer in old-old age. Psychology and Aging, 18, 602607.
Slotterback, C. S. and Saarnio, D. A. (1996). Attitudes toward older adults reported by young adults: variation based on attitudinal task and attribute categories. Psychology and Aging, 4, 563571.
Solomon, S., Greenberg, J. and Pyszczynski, T. (2004). The cultural animal: twenty years of terror management theory and research. In Greenberg, J., Koole, S. L. and Pyszczynski, T. (eds.), Handbook of Experimental Existential Psychology (pp. 1334). New York: The Guilford Press.
Tajfel, H. (1981). Human Groups and Social Categories: Studies in Social Psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Timberlake, E. M. (1980). The value of grandchildren to grandmothers. Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 3, 6376.
Uhlenberg, P. and de Jong Gierveld, J. (2004). Age segregation in later life: an examination of personal networks. Ageing and Society, 24, 528.
Yun, R. J. and Lachman, M. E. (2006). Perceptions of aging in two cultures: Korean and American views on old age. Journal of Cross-cultural Gerontology, 21, 5570.
Zebrowitz, L. A. and Montepare, J. M. (2000). Too young, too old: stigmatizing adolescents and the elderly. In Heatherton, T., Kleck, R., Hull, J. G. and Hebl, M. (eds.), Stigma (pp. 334373). New York: Guilford Publications.



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed