Ageism & Stereotyping the Elderly: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:07 Definition
  • 0:56 Changes
  • 2:46 Stereotyping
  • 4:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

With this lesson, we will explore the cultural phenomena of ageism and stereotyping an individual due to their age. What stereotypes do you think you have against the elderly or growing older?


I have a friend whose dad just learned to text. Why is that the beginning of this lesson? This is because my friend's dad is 96 years old and still learning new things. So maybe, just maybe, we can challenge some of the preconceptions of age here in this lesson.

Ageism is defined as a belief, action, or policy structure which assigns a particular role purely on age. Notice it does not necessarily mean old persons. How old do you need to be to get a license? That would be 16 in nearly all parts of the U.S. We make people wait until they are 21 to buy alcohol. These are examples of how young people have beliefs, actions, and policies set against them based purely on their age.


Ageism has a lot to do with assumptions, stereotyping, and some research. As people age, there are recorded and researched changes that occur. Specifically, one of the many areas that change is fluid intelligence, defined as the ability to use logic in novel ways. Fluid intelligence is opposite of crystallized intelligence, defined as a person's vocabulary and general knowledge. Fluid intelligence has been found to start decreasing after 45 and sharply so at 65, while crystallized intelligence stays about the same or decreases only slightly.

With just this information, you may say that a person who is older than 50 should likely retire from a position in which they will need to handle multiple tasks simultaneously. And in fact, many places use this type of research as proof that they should forcibly retire individuals at this certain age. However, like anything taken out of context, the actual picture is very different. Older persons will use their crystallized intelligence to compensate for their fluid intelligence.

For example, let's say you hand a new type of problem to a young person and an old person. The young person may be able to think of the problem as it is, forming and playing with concepts in their mind. This is good, right? Well, the older individual may be able to draw from past experiences. How is this problem like those they have previously handled?

While changes do occur as we age, we cannot hold up a single one of them and say 'This is the reason we are doing this'. The aging process doesn't occur in a vacuum, and one aspect that declines can often be compensated by another.


What are some examples of the stereotypes that people use for old people?

'Can't teach an old dog new tricks' was first blasted away in the beginning. Because a 96-year-old can learn how to text and use the internet. While you may not think it's a big deal because you text, you probably live in a world where you've never been further than 30 feet from a computer at any given time. Ninety-six years ago is around the time of World War I.

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