Countries that value community more than the individual are less biased against older people.
“Older adults are one of the only stigmatized groups that we all become part of someday,” says psychologist William Chopik of Michigan State University (MSU) in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “And that’s always struck me as interesting — that we would treat so poorly a group of people that we’re destined to become someday.”
Chopik is co-author of two new papers that examine age bias internationally and in U.S. states.
Bias against older people is most prevalent in countries characterized by an emphasis on individualism.
Considering that old age awaits everyone, Chopik asserts that promoting respect for older people makes good strategic sense.
“Making more equitable environments for older adults are even in younger people’s self-interests,” says Chopik.
One of the studies Chopik co-authored considered attitudes in different countries, while the other explored age bias among U.S. states. Over 800,000 people recruited through the Project Implicit Demo site took part in the studies.
The researchers administered the participants with the Implicit Association Test. The test aims to reveal the attitudes and beliefs that individuals are reluctant to express or are not aware of.
Chopik’s international study appears in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Lindsay Ackerman, also of MSU, was the co-author.
“In some countries and cultures, older adults fare better,” Chopik says, “so a natural question we had was whether the people living in different countries might think about older adults and aging differently. And, maybe that explains why societies are so different in the structures put in place to support older adults.”
China, Japan, Korea, India, and Brazil were among the nations with the least age bias.
The cultures of these countries value harmony and collective well-being.
At the other end of the spectrum were the U.S., Germany, Ireland, South Africa, and Australia, all countries that promote individualism.
The researchers also found that older people in countries with the most bias toward them reported making more effort to remain physically active and maintain a youthful appearance.
Individuals in countries with the most age-bias also reported feeling younger than their actual chronological age.”
“We interpreted this as something called age-group dissociation,” says Chopik, “or feeling motivated to distance yourself from that group. People do this by identifying with younger age groups, lying about their age, and even saying that they feel quantitatively younger than they actually are.”
The second study’s examination of age bias in the U.S. appears in the
The research aimed to identify those areas in the U.S. with the most age bias and explore the link between age bias and health outcomes.
The researchers found that the most significant age bias in the U.S. was in the Northeast and the South.
The research also identified that these areas had the lowest life expectancies and health outcomes for older people. It found that older adults living there had reduced access to healthcare and less community engagement, making it harder for them to maintain their health.
Medicare costs were also high in these parts of the country. Chopik suggests that this may be because areas with more older adults experience a greater demand for health resources.
In addition, says Chopik, “We found a strange pattern in which some popular retirement destinations tended to be higher in age bias, like Florida and the Carolinas.” He suggests a reason: “Possibly, this could be due to the friction that occurs when there are large influxes and migrations of older adults to regions that are not always best suited to welcome them.”
“Both of our studies,” asserts Chopik, “demonstrate how local environments affect people’s attitudes and the lives of older adults.”
He adds, “Being exposed to policies and attitudes at a country level can shape how you interact with older adults.”
Chopik concludes, “At the state level in the [U.S.], how you treat older adults has important implications for them — for example, their health and how long older people live — and even the economy, like how much money we spend on older adults’ health care.”