2013. Vol.4, No.3A, 279-282
Published Online March 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 279
Different Ways of Perceiving the Aging Process: Social Behaviors
of Women and Men in Relation to Age Discrimination
Alfonso J. García, Yolanda Troyano
Department Social Psychology, Faculty of Psychology, Seville, Spain
Received December 21st, 20 1 2; revised January 19th, 2013; accepted February 17th, 2013
Based on the original survey “Relating to Older People Evaluation” (ROPE) by Cherry and Palmore
(2008), we have elaborated the instrument Evaluation for Older Adults that consists of 20 items. In this
project, we intend on studying the positive and negative behaviors which people have been able to inter-
nalize during their daily life, as well as a previous psychometric analysis about the validity of the instru-
ment. The sample is formed by, on one side, students of Psycho pedagogy, and the other side, older stu-
dents that belong to the Class of Experience of the University of Seville. The results obtained suggest that
the majority of the people take into consideration the positive behaviors, and both the young and the older
adults reinforce the behaviors of and toward the older adults. It is important to highlight the significant
differences as far as gender in relation to the internalization of positive behaviors, being more frequent in
women than in men. In the discussion, we analyze the implications about social perception towards older
people as a social phenomenon, as well as the strategies to reduce the negative behaviors towards older
people in daily life.
Keywords: Older People; Young People; Social Perception; Discrimination
The majority of people are familiar with the concept of age
discrimination, which refers to any type of prejudice or dis-
crimination based on chronological age. Butler (1969) was the
first to coin this term; and since then, a wide range of experi-
mental evidence documents the frequent and generalized pres-
ence of studies about discrimination based on reasons of age in
our society today (Palmore, 1999, 2001). From a psychosocial
perspective, age can also influence implicit beliefs related to the
competency of older persons, as well as the configuration of
stereotypes (Levy, 2001). Most authors agree that we live in a
society oriented towards the youth, where the diverse ways of
discrimination based on reasons of age are widespread (Kel-
chner, 1999; Palmore, Branch, & Harris 2006). In fact, many
perceived behaviors such as demonstrating courtesy towards
older persons can be precisely manifestations of discrimination,
based on the expression of stereotypical attitudes (Palmore,
The purpose of the present study is to develop a profile of
older persons in relation to the positive and negative behaviors
that are manifested towards them during their daily life. In the
scientific literature, various investigations about age discrimi-
nation can be found, such as a scale that measures attitudes
towards older persons (Kogan, 1961); or the Semantic Differen-
tial about Aging (Rosecranz & McNevin, 1969). Recently, a
questionnaire has been elaborated in order to measure the
prejudice beliefs and the discrimination towards older persons
(Palmore, 2001). This way, it can be demonstrated the impor-
tance of taking into account the incidence and the prevalence of
age discrimination in society in general.
In this way a cross-sectional study examined the associations
among perceived vulnerability to disease, aging knowledge,
and ageism (positive and negative) in a sample of undergradu-
ate students enrolled in a human development course. Perceived
vulnerability to disease and aging knowledge were associated
with self-reported ageist behaviors. Undergraduates who view-
ed themselves as more susceptible to disease and knew less
about the aging process tended to report more negative ageist
behavior. Sex moderated the association between aging knowl-
edge and ageist behavior, indicating the association was
stronger for males (Stahl & Metzger, 2012).
Other study is focused on self-reported ageism in college
students and social service providers using the Relating to
Older People Evaluation (Cherry & Palmore, 2008). Partici-
pants included undergraduate and graduate social work students
and practicing social service providers in the nursing home and
mental health setting. Findings indicate that people of varying
educational backgrounds and occupational experience in social
services readily admit to positive ageist behaviors. Item analy-
ses revealed similarities and differences between groups in the
most and least frequent forms of ageism endorsed (Allen,
Cherry, & Palmore, 2009).
In this article, we present an analysis of the frequency and
the types of behaviors towards older persons in general. The
used survey contains 20 types of behaviors related to older
people: 6 items deal with age discrimination in a positive sense
and 14 are negative. As an example, many items are included,
such as: “Maintains the door open for older people as a result of
their age;” or “Votes for an older person due to his or her age”.
In a negative sense, we emphasize for example: “Wishes happy
birthday to older persons in order to joke about their age”; or
“Votes against an older person as a result of his or her age”.
Palmore elaborates the topics.
The questionnaire is designed to measure the discrimination
of older people in the personal sphere (negative or positive).
The distinction between negative and positive is based on Pal-
more’s (1999) conceptual characteristics of reasons for age
discrimination. In general, elderly age discrimination in the
personal sphere is based on negative stereotypes, as the diffi-
culty in developing an active lifestyle, adopting a sedentary
attitude, low self-esteem and a lower quality of life. In front of
people who thinks that older people have much wisdom comes
from experience developed lifespan (García, 2011).
One of the main novelty in this work is to analyze the dis-
criminatory behavior (positive or negative) on young and eld-
erly people. Thus, we do extensive research to seniors. Similar
to Palmore in his study, we expect to answer questions like the
What is the prevalence of age discriminative behaviors in
the Andalucian society?
What types of age discriminative behaviors are more fre-
A total of 108 persons participated in this study. The partici-
pants include 4th and 5th year university students of Psycho
pedagogy, and an older student body from the Class of the Ex-
perience of the University of Seville. Participants study at the
University of Seville. They have a socio-economic medium-
high status. Also, the sample is characterized by choosing vol-
untarily university studies. In the case of young people, 84%
report having intergenerational relationships with grandparents
or older neighbors.
The social demographic characteristics of the sample appear
in Table 1.
In this study, has been used the Relating to Older People
Evaluation (Cherry & Palmore, 2008). The ROPE is a 20-item
questionnaire that measures positive and negative ageist be-
haviors that people engage in during everyday life.
To make the questionnaire we took the original questionnaire
ROPE and has been tested for construct validity and reliability
as Cronbach’s alpha, resulting in an overall reliability of .83.
About the construct validity of the scale, it was evaluated by
outside judges, experts in social perception, social discrimina-
tion and prejudice. The result respect to the proposed items
related to the topics was a high or very high valuation for each
of the items.
For the realization of the surveys, specific dates were pro-
grammed for the survey taker to go to the Psycho pedagogy
classes and the Class of the Experience, respectively, in order to
guarantee the maximum attendance of the students and to ob-
tain a representative sample of the object of study population.
Similarly, the same surveyor applied all the surveys in an at-
tempt to homogenize the implemented instructions.
Frequency An al ys i s
In general, the results indicate that the age discriminative
behaviors are generalized and frequent in all age groups. Prac-
tically, all the survey-takers admitted one or more discrimina-
tive behaviors. In addition, the prevalence of positive behaviors
appears more frequently than negative ones.
The discriminative behavior more frequently manifested
through 98% of the survey-takers was “he or she asks for ad-
vice from an older person because of his or her age”. Almost
the same frequency is found in the other two behaviors of posi-
tive discrimination: “Enjoys conversing with older persons
because of his or her age” (91%); and “Maintains the doors
open for older people as a result of their age” (86%) (Table 2).
The least frequent positive age discriminative behavior was
“Votes for an older person as a result of his or her age” (23%).
The frequency analysis of the negative behavior of age dis-
crimination shows that 90% assert to say to an older person:
“You are too old for this”. This affirmation may look positive,
but in reality it is negative because it implies to sub-esteem the
capacities of the older person (Table 3). The second negative
element that was more frequent (64%) was: “When there is a
slow driver in front of you, you think it must be an older per-
son.” The three negative behaviors less frequent were: “Avoid
older people because they are irritating” (17%); “Vote against
an older person because of his/her age” (19%); and “Jokes
about older people’s age” (21%).
Gender and Age Differences
From this study, two age groups are derived: the young
adults (21 - 49 years old, n = 33) and middle-old age adults (5 0 -
82 years old, n = 75).
Table 1.
Social demographic characteristics.
Group Age Gender
M DT Range Men Women
Students of E d ucational P sychology (n = 34) 52.6 8.9 21 - 53 6 28
Students of E l d erly Programs (n = 74) 68.3 9.7 54 - 82 23 51
Table 2.
Most frequency positive discrimination.
Positive Discrimination
Behaviors of Discrimination Enjoys conversing with others because of his or her ageMaintains the doors open for older people as a result of their age
91% 86%
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Table 3.
Most frequency negative discrimination.
Negative Discrimination
Behaviors of Discrimination You are too old for this When there is a slow driver in front of you, you think it must be an older person
90% 64%
With this data, we find little or no significant difference be-
tween the age groups, either in the manifestation of positive or
negative discrimination behaviors. Making a non-significant
ANOVA confirms an effect on base to the age groups (p = .62).
In this manner, the way to relate to the older adults is cultural
and it does not often change as the subjects’ age changes. The
relationship was significant in the positive discrimination be-
haviors F (1, 108) = 92.05, p < .001.
With respect to the possible differences of gender, we fore-
saw that men and women would give very similar answers.
Contrary to our expectations, the analysis shows an effect on
the answers given by women. In fact, women show more posi-
tive discrimination behavior towards older adults than men (F
(1, 108) = 5.41, p = .02), although neither men nor women dif-
fer in their perception of age discrimination negative behavior.
We assume the fact that the majority of older adults have
experienced different forms of age discrimination (Palmore,
2001, 2004). Nevertheless, until not that long ago, there was no
interest to measure the frequency and the types of age dis-
crimination behaviors. The results have shown that people of all
ages admit to have age discrimination positive behavior. Simi-
larly, it has been verified the prevalence of the positive behav-
iors in the women’s responses.
Our first conclusion of interest from this study refers to the
predominance of the positive conducts over the negative in
relation to age discrimination. Therefore, we find that the used
questionnaire seems to be a valid instrument to measure age
discrimination behavior from a wide variety of participants.
The second interesting finding from this study has been that
the young adults and the middle-old age adults have shown to
have very similar age discrimination behavior. Nevertheless,
the attitudes towards the age discrimination behaviors diminish
with age and with more experience in life (Kalavar, 2001; Rupp,
Vodanovich, & Cred, 2005). In this sense, our results suggest
that age is not a determinant factor when it comes to age dis-
crimination behaviors.
The third interesting finding comes from the gender analysis,
which reveals that women show positive age discrimination
more frequently than men. In agreement with this point of view,
Stuart-Hamilton & Mahoney (2003) found that people with a
better understanding of the aging process may maintain atti-
tudes of less age discrimination.
Hence, the results from this study highlight the importance of
providing information and formation about the aging process,
either through a study program (like the one that the Class of
Experience proposes); either through continuous educational
workshops for the professionals that work with older adults.
This way, educational programs and workshops that focus on
improving the knowledge about the aging process are essential
for the professionals that may get in contact with the older adult
population, taking into consideration the demographic tendency
in a continuous ascent of the older adults in our present society
and in the future (Jackson, Cherry, Smitherman, & Hawley,
In our study, there were two limitations as far as the method
was concerned. First, people can deny or minimize the fre-
quency of their behavior if they perceive it is bad or socially
undesirable. In the same manner, they can exaggerate the fre-
quency of this type of behavior if they perceive that it is so-
cially desirable, which tends to augment the frequency of the
positive elements, giving place to the phenomenon of social
Future studies must include the observation of the real be-
haviors or an instrument that controls such effect. Besides, it
would be interesting to do a prospective analysis based on the
results found in this study, which shows needs for implement-
ing a psychosocial intervention program. This program would
base its action on optimizing positives behaviors about elderly
people, favoring ac t iv e a g in g.
A. J. García and Y. Troyano thank to IMSERSO the possi-
bility to do this work with an I + D + I project about “Quality
Life and Elderly People”.
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