Sunday, December 16, 2012
An Example of Social Inequity
One example of social inequity that has a tremendous effect on health is the systemic stereotyping, discrimination and bias against individuals because of their advanced chronological age (Iversen, Larsen, & Solem, 2009). Similar to systemic racism, a pervasive attitude exists toward older individuals, that they are useless and a liability to society. Institutionalizing the care of elderly adults has become commonplace, and people choose this option vice learning how to attend to their needs within the family environment (Pruchno, 2001). This institutionalization is one of the significant contributors to ageist views (Grefe, 2011) and ageism has become deeply ingrained into American society (McGuire, Klein, & Chen, 2008). Americans have become socialized to the bias and stereotype of ageism to the extent that they perceive the negative effects of ageing on their own lives (McGuire et al., 2008).
Effects on Health
When elders are sequestered from the family environment, they are also ostracized from society. It separates them from the younger generation and makes them less accessible, widening the generational gap (Pruchno, 2001). In addition, segregating the elderly population, or treating them according to bias and stereotype has a significant impact on their health, well-being, and longevity (McGuire et al., 2008). A sense of belonging contributes to aging well and to healthy social and psychological functioning (Nolan, 2011). Other research has established a direct relationship between depression and lacking a sense of purpose, meaning, and belonging. Furthermore, isolation in old age contributes to a higher incidence of suicide (Nolan, 2011).
Ageism has been compared to sexism and racism (Byetheway, 2005; McGuire et al., 2008) and as in other cases of systemic bias, inappropriate perceptions need to be changed at the individual and, in this case, the family level. In his article on ageism, Butler (1969) wrote "personal insecurity, once generalized, becomes the basis of prejudice and hostility" (p. 243). If insecurity is a factor in misunderstanding older adults, health psychologists could resolve this issue by creating stronger bonds between elders and their families and the community and demonstrate the benefits of keeping older adults in roles that allow them to continue to function and contribute to society.
Utilizing Marks, Murray, Evans, & Estacio's (2011) suggestion for "Reducing Inequalities" (p. 56), resolving ageist inequalities could include strengthening the individuals and the community, improving access to and developing programs, and encouraging cultural change. To strengthen the community, a re-integration program could place older adults into the elementary schools where they could work with children. This would create stronger intergenerational understanding and simultaneously give the elders a sense of value as they contribute to their communities. Furthermore, health psychologists could design accessible programs that would help families learn how to manage the care of their elders. Finally, healthy psychologists can inspire change and help others reassess their bias toward older adults. Aging education has been utilized successfully to decrease ageism (McGuire et al., 2008).
Ageism ravages an already vulnerable population. It lessens an older adult's ability to enjoy full participation in society (Nolan, 2011). Perpetuating the bias and stereotyping that separates and ostracizes these individuals from mainstream society is devastating for them and a significant loss for the culture (Nolan, 2011). Education can help reduce the prevalence of ageism, and instill the idea that people at all ages have the same fundamental need to belong.
Butler, R. N. (1969). Age-Ism: Another Form of Bigotry. The Gerontologist, 9(4), 243-246.
Bytheway, B. (2005). Ageism and age categorization. Journal of Social Issues, 61(2), 361-374. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.2005.00410.x
Grefe, D. (2011). Combating ageism with narrative and intergroup contact: Possibilities of intergenerational connections. Pastoral Psychology, 60(1), 99-105. doi: 10.1007/s11089-010-0280-0
Iversen, T. N., Larsen, L., & Solem, P. E. (2009). A conceptual analysis of Ageism. Nordic Psychology, 61(3), 4-22. doi: 10.1027/1901-22126.96.36.199
McGuire, S. L., Klein, D. A., & Chen, S. (2008). Ageism revisited: A study measuring ageism in East Tennessee, USA. Nursing & Health Sciences, 10(1), 11-16. doi: 10.1111/j.1442-2018.2007.00336.x
Marks, D. F., Murray, M., Evans, B., & Estacio, E. V. (2011). Health psychology: Theory, research, and practice (3rd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.