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Obituary photos suggest growing bias against aging faces
Date:5/13/2009

COLUMBUS, Ohio A new study that looked at obituary photographs published in one metropolitan newspaper suggests that Americans may have become more biased toward youthful appearance, particularly for women.

The study found that the number of obituary photographs showing the deceased at a much younger age than when he or she died more than doubled between 1967 and 1997.

And women were more than twice as likely as men to have an obituary photo from when they were much younger.

In 1967, about 17 percent of the obituary photographs surveyed in the The Plain Dealer (a daily newspaper in Cleveland, Ohio) were "age-inappropriate" meaning they showed the deceased at least 15 years younger than when they died. By 1997, the number had increased to 36 percent of the surveyed obit photos.

"Obituaries and their photographs are one reflection of our society at a particular moment in time," said Keith Anderson, co-author of the study and assistant professor of social work at Ohio State University.

"In this case, we can get hints about our views on aging and appearance from the photographs chosen for obituaries. Our findings suggest that we were less accepting of aging in the 1990s than we were back in the 60s."

Anderson conducted the study with Jina Han, a graduate student in social work at Ohio State. Their results appear in the current issue of Omega-Journal of Death and Dying.

The researchers looked at obituary photos in The Plain Dealer which has the largest circulation of any newspaper in Ohio -- in 1967, 1977, 1987, and 1997. They didn't examine more recent photos because the newspaper changed the format of its obituary pages, making it impossible to make accurate comparisons after 1997.

Beginning in February of each of those four years, Anderson printed copies of the first 100 obituaries of local residents that had photos, for a total of 400 obituaries in the study.


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Contact: Keith Anderson
Anderson.1630@osu.edu
614-247-8963
Ohio State University
Source:Eurekalert

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