Ageism alive and well into 2000

January 9, 1998

Sexism and racism may be well off limits in the politically correct 1990s, but ageism remains endemic to western society, according to researchers from the University of Northumbria.

Geography lecturers Rachel Pain and Graham Mowl interviewed elderly Newcastle residents about their experiences of getting old.

Their research suggests ageism is rife and has a spatial dimension, with certain places at certain times associated with particular ages, and off limits to others. Bingo clubs or city centres in the evenings, for instance, are dominated by certain age groups, leaving others excluded.

Dr Pain said this exclusion is a result of strong ideologies about appropriate interests, behaviours and use of space associated with age. She found many older people tended to avoid clubs for their age group because they saw them as old people's spaces.

Those who did go tended to be viewed by others as giving in to old age.

Experiences of growing old varied markedly between men and women and according to means. Women were more likely to be subject to ageist ideas than men.

Older women are commonly portrayed as gossiping hypochondriacs obsessed with trivia. Older men, on the other hand, saw their own clubs as signifying that they were enjoying a useful and physically active old age.

Researchers found strong associations between age and class, with the working class perceived as ageing more quickly. Retirement for the more affluent is more likely to be associated with a time of expanding interests and opportunities, said Dr Pain.

Just as older people are associated with infirmity, people with disabilities are more likely to be labelled as "getting old".

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