CORVALLIS, Ore. Many baby boomers want to improve the way people view aging, but an Oregon State University researcher has found they often reinforce negative stereotypes of old age when interacting with their own parents, coloring the way those seniors experience their twilight years.
Drawing on in-depth interviews with consumers in their late 80s, their family members, and paid caregivers, Oregon State University researcher Michelle Barnhart found that study participants viewed someone as "old" when that person consumed in ways consistent with society's concept of older people, and not simply when he or she experienced inabilities that come with increased chronological age.
"Our society devalues old age in many ways, and this is particularly true in the United States, where individualism, self-reliance, and independence are highly valued," Barnhart said. "Almost every stereotype we associate with being elderly is something negative, from being 'crotchety' and unwilling to change to being forgetful.
"Conflicts come up when someone does not think of themselves as old," Barnhart added, "but people in their family or caregiving group are treating them as such."
The study is now available online and will be published in the April 2013 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.
Barnhart, who is an assistant professor of marketing at OSU, said her study explains how consumption activities, which can range from buying groceries to attending medical appointments, serve as a means of identifying someone as old. They also serve as a venue for working through conflicts that arise when older consumers who do not identify themselves as old are treated as an "old person" by family members and service providers.
"When people in their 80s or 90s exhibited characteristics that society tends to associate with people who are not old, such as being aware, active, safe, or independent, they were viewed and treated
|Contact: Michelle Barnhart|
Oregon State University