Journal Assignment: A Review of a Study Measuring Ageism in East Tennessee, USA The renowned gerontologist Dr. Robert Butler defines ageism as “stereotyping and discrimination against people because they are old” (McGuire, Klein, & Chen, p. 11, 2008). McGuire, Klein, and Chen (2008) were interested in determining the amount of ageism present amongst older adults in East Tennessee, USA. These researchers also wanted to examine the types of ageism reported by such individuals. McGuire et al. 2008) hoped that their results from this study would be a precursor for creating strategies to fight ageism in the region.
Method McGuire et al. (2008) used convenience sampling methods to recruit community-dwelling older adults. The researchers were interested in surveying individuals 60 years of age or older (McGuire et al. , 2008). They obtained 247 participants who qualified for the study (mean age = 74; 75% females). The survey was administered at eight locations in four counties in the East Tennessee area (McGuire et al. , 2008).
Of the eight survey sites, five of them were considered urban/suburban while three of them were considered rural. There were 151 participants from the urban/suburban sites and 96 participants from the rural sites (McGuire et al. , 2008). McGuire et al. (2008) utilized a cross-sectional survey design involving the Ageism Survey. The Ageism Survey is designed to measure the frequency of ageism in different societies, determine which subgroups of the elderly report the most ageism, and determine which types of ageism are most common (McGuire et al. , 2008).
The survey includes 20 items that examine the frequency of occurrence of ageism along with examples of negative attitudes, stereotypes and institutional and personal discrimination towards the elderly (McGuire et al. , 2008). Results The participants revealed that ageism is prevalent and widespread. Roughly 84% of the participants stated experiencing ageism at least once and 71% of the participants reported experiencing ageism more than once (McGuire et al. , 2008). 69% of the participants indicated that they were told a joke that made fun of the elderly, while 51% reported that they were given a birthday card that made of the elderly.
Furthermore, 40% of the participants stated that they were disregarded or not taken seriously due to their age, while 37. 5% indicated that they were patronized due to their age (McGuire et al. , 2008). Finally, 22. 8% of the participants stated that they were treated with less respect and less consideration as result of their elderly status (McGuire et al. , 2008). In addition, McGuire et al. (2008) found that a statistically significant difference existed between the urban/suburban and the rural locations in terms of the frequency of ageism.
The participants from the urban/suburban areas indicated a higher rate of ageism than their rural counterparts on the following survey items: received an offensive birthday card, was told a joke that made fun of the elderly, was ignored due to their age, and a doctor assumed their ailments were age-related (McGuire et al. , 2008). The rural participants reported a higher occurrence only for the following event: someone thought I couldn’t understand due to my age (McGuire et al. , 2008).
Discussion and Conclusions Based on their results, McGuire et al. 2008) concluded that ageism is thriving in the USA. Their results support findings from previous research and confirm the existence of ageism. McGuire et al. (2008) also mentioned that their study reveals the utility of the Ageism Survey and the importance of measuring ageism in society. They state that the results obtained by the Ageism Survey are useful for focusing the direction for interventions to fight ageism (McGuire et al. , 2008). Overall, McGuire et al. (2008) stress the importance of shifting societal norms towards a more accepting view of aging.
Perceived Limitations McGuire et al. (2008) state that the primary issue of their study involves their use of urban/suburban and rural dwelling participants. This is because even through the participants lived in urban/suburban or rural neighbourhoods, they may have experienced the ageism that they reported in a different setting. That is, the urban/suburban participants may have been in a rural area when they witnessed ageism, or vice versa. Furthermore, McGuire et al. (2008) mention that they are unable to say for sure whether their results are really cases of ageism and not simply hypersensitivity.
In addition, participants may have been embarrassed resulting in their inaccurate responding in the survey. Thus, McGuire et al. ’s (2008) results are only as accurate as the participants’ reporting. Finally, the researchers indicate that their results may be influenced by response bias as the survey only used positively worded events; therefore, it is possible that the results are actually more positive than reality (McGuire et al. , 2008). Other limitations of this study involve the use of a convenience sample. That is, while the results may pertain to elderly participants in the East Tennessee area, they cannot be generalized beyond that.
One cannot conclude that the findings from this study necessarily reveal information regarding populations in other parts of the USA or in other countries. Furthermore, the study doesn’t address whether gender differences in experiences towards ageism exist. It is generally believed that women experience a higher degree of discrimination in regards to the aging process, thus perhaps the results in this study are skewed due to the fact that 75% of the sample were female. Therefore, the results may be more negative than what would have arose if more men were surveyed.
In addition, this study doesn’t address the context in which the participants experienced ageism. The elderly person may have misunderstood the situation and deemed the experience as ageist when in reality no such intentions existed. This taps into the limitation highlighted by the researchers themselves that states that the participants may have been overly sensitive. However the reverse is true as well. It is possible that the participants experience ageism a lot more than they even notice. That is, perhaps some instances of ageism are so subtle that the elderly person involved is naive to what they are experiencing.
Further limitations of this study involve the technique of data collection: a survey questionnaire. While this method is generally inexpensive and allows researchers to use large samples, safeguard anonymity, and reduce the possibility of researcher bias, questionnaires have a tendency for inaccuracy. As previously mentioned, the results are only as good as the responding. It is possible that the participants lost interest while completing the study and mindlessly responded. There were no incentives given to the participants (i. e. no rewards), therefore intentional distortion may have occurred.
Furthermore, self-presentation bias or impression management is a possible confound in this study. The participants may have been trying to preserve their dignity and therefore underreported their experiences of ageism. In addition, the questionnaires were presented to the participants only once; therefore it’s difficult to predict whether or not the results would be stable over time. To check this, the researchers should have used reliability tests, such as test-retest and/or alternate form. Finally, there is always the possibility that the researchers misinterpreted their results.
Directions for Future Research McGuire et al. (2008) suggest that additional research should be conducted to provide larger numbers, further support, and more culture-based population information regarding the measurement of ageism. These researchers suggest that welfare and health professionals and policy advocates can play a significant role in decreasing ageism; but, they must first be able to demonstrate the scope and epidemiology of ageism (McGuire et al. , 2008). As a result, they suggest further research in any and all areas pertaining to the prevalence ageism is vital if it is to ever be eradicated (McGuire et al. 2008).
McGuire et al. ’s (2008) study appears to be a starting point and precursor for future research in the field of gerontology. While this study has demonstrated the extent of ageism in East Tennessee, it does not necessarily demonstrate how society should combat it. As a result, future research should be conducted to reveal the most effective means of eliminating ageism. Furthermore, additional research should be performed on other populations and more representative samples, such as from different age groups, ethnicities, and socio-economic statuses.
Data from other countries or cultures (i. e. where the elderly are embraced) may be useful in demonstrating to Western societies the benefits and importance of elderly citizens. Furthermore, information from a variety of populations will provide a more all-encompassing view of the topic of ageism and will perhaps pinpoint a better approach to fighting it. Additional studies should make use of both quantitative and qualitative methods. It would be interesting to compare the results from an open-ended interview or case study with those from a laboratory study.
By utilizing mixed-methods, the field of gerontology is exposed to a more comprehensive view of ageism. Future research should also examine which types of individuals are most vulnerable to experiencing ageism, so that efforts can be targeted to reduce ageism. Researchers should also focus on methods of spreading awareness. That is, they should study the most effective means of educating society about the effects and prevalence of ageism. Another potential line of research may involve asking younger individuals whether they have participated in acts of ageism.
The results from this possible study may provide useful information on how younger generations view ageism and how society can go about educating them and preventing future acts of ageism. It would also be interesting to uncover data pertaining to implicit ageism and self-stereotyped ageism. Finally, it may be beneficial to reveal whether ageism exists amongst and between the elderly. That is, whether or not older adults engage in ageism themselves. Overall, future research should be focused on developing an epidemiology of ageism so that society can start working on decreasing it in our world.
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