What are the attitudes of different age groups towards contributing and benefitting from the wider society and how are these experienced by individuals in those age groups? Looking forward to 2025 and 2040, how might these evolve?

Naoko Kishita, Paul Fisher, Kenneth Laidlaw

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


Improving attitudes towards ageing has been seen within policy documents as one means of improving the participation and contribution of older people within society (e.g. World Health Organization, 2002). It is important, therefore, to understand the factors that underpin attitudes towards ageing in order to inform strategies and policies as a foundation for facilitating active participation of older people in society.
Socio-demographic factors such as age, gender and ethnic variation have been seen as some of the important predictors to consider when approaching attitudes towards ageing (e.g. Abrams et al., 2011b). However, recent research by Shenkin et al. (2014) noted that the mechanisms by which individuals develop perceptions of old age are complex, and it is increasingly understood that this is a more personal and psychological process than was at first conceived. Understanding psychological predictors of attitudes towards ageing along with socio-demographic factors is, therefore, very important, and is a main focus of this report.
The 2002 WHO active ageing policy states that policymakers can impact on such psychological factors through the use of both the media and education. This report also evaluates the contribution that traditional and social media have made in this area to explore the potential roles of media and education in framing positive images of ageing in the UK.
We conducted a computerised search of cross-sectional and longitudinal studies on attitudes to ageing. A systematic search yielded 66 articles on attitudes to ageing and 22 studies on age stereotypes in the media.
Key findings
Predictors of attitudes to ageing
• Attitudes to ageing become more negative in the presence of psychological difficulties (e.g. depression and dementia) among older people. However, attitudes to ageing are affected more by perceptions, idiosyncratic appraisals and emotions, rather than the severity of physical symptoms of age-related conditions.
• Healthcare professionals who express high levels of confidence in working therapeutically with older clients and who have more frequent social contacts with healthy older people report more positive attitudes to ageing.
• Tackling ageing anxiety in student populations can be improved through increasing knowledge of ageing and facilitating positive interactions between younger and older people.
Age stereotypes in the media
• There are low levels of coverage of topics related to active ageing in newspapers.
• Older people are under-represented in magazine and TV advertisements.
• There is a low level of coverage of ageing topics in undergraduate and elementary school textbooks.
• There is a lack of research examining age stereotypes in the context of social media.
Conclusions and recommendations
• In order to improve attitudes to ageing in older people, we need to consider optimising opportunities not only for physical health but also mental health, so as to enhance the quality of life as people age. Challenging stereotypes through psychotherapies may promote greater social participation.
• In order to improve attitudes to ageing among healthcare professionals, we need to increase training opportunities with older people in order to increase confidence and to challenge negative stereotypes. This may also facilitate greater inclusion of older people more broadly in society.
• In order to improve attitudes to ageing in younger populations, further research is needed to understand the types of interventions to improve knowledge and better understand what types of contact with older people (and not the quantity of contact) would be most effective in reducing ageing anxiety.
• We need to develop research to understand attitudes towards older people with individuals other than healthcare professionals, particularly policymakers, in order to effect a greater impact on social inclusion and participation of older people in society.
• Researchers need to engage in a dialogue with both social and traditional media to challenge unwittingly negative portrayals of older people. Media campaigns can provide realistic and positive images of ageing, as well as educational information on active ageing, which may be beneficial for both young and old audiences.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherGovernment Office for Science
Commissioning bodyForesight Future of an Ageing Population project
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2015

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