MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: Ageism—stereotypes that lead to prejudice and discrimination against older people— occurs frequently in young adults and can even be seen in children as young as 3.
Ageism has deleterious consequences on older people in our aging Western societies. However, the factors influencing this phenomenon in the young are not well known.
To answer this question, we have asked 1151 Belgian children and adolescents to provide their views of the elderly, using especially designed questionnaires and open questions. We found four main influences on their views of the elderly: gender and age of the child, quality of contact with grandparents, and grandparents’ health. Girls had slightly more positive views than boys. Ageist stereotypes fluctuated with age, with 7- to 9-year-olds expressing the most prejudice and 10- to 12-year-olds expressing the least. This finding mirrors other forms of discrimination (e.g., those related to ethnicity or gender) and is in line with cognitive-developmental theories. For example, acquiring perspective-taking skills around age 10 reduces previous stereotypes. With regard to ageism, prejudice seemed to reappear when the participants in this study reached their teen years: 13- to 16-year-olds had higher levels of ageism compared with younger children. Moreover, youths who described their contact with grandparents as good or very good had more favorable feelings toward the elderly than those who described the contact less positively.
Finally, children and adolescents with grandparents in poor health were more likely to hold ageist views than youths with grandparents in better health.
MedicalResearch.com: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Response: The quality of contact between the child and his/her grandparents is key to his/her vision of older people. The frequency of contact may obviously reinforce this effect (only if the relation is rewarding) but does not seem to be a factor in itself. We believe these results are important and helpful for anyone devising intergenerational programs.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Response: We would like to find out what exactly makes the quality of these grandchildren/grandparents contact. Is it the type of activity, the affection, the sharing of secrets…? Since our study has also shown a U-shape relation between age and ageist stereotypes (less ageist stereotypes in 10- to 12-years), we are also designed new studies to explore in more details the evolution of ageist stereotypes across childhood and the specific influence of parents.
MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Response: It is often suggested that the roots of racism and sexism can be found in children. A similar analysis of the roots of ageism is however missing. Considering the serious impact of ageism on older people throughout our modern societies, this subject should continue to be studied more deeply.
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