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.