- Study from Oregon State University says that once an ‘elderly’ person cannot shop or drive for themselves, they are considered to be in ‘old age’
- Also looks at how those who have reached ‘old age’ are marginalized by society
- Study looked at people in their 80s and 90s and found that even their adult children treated them differently because of their advanced age
By Beth Stebner
PUBLISHED: 13:08 EST, 16 November 2012 | UPDATED: 13:08 EST, 16 November 2012
Do Americans associate old age with telltale physical signs like wrinkles and crow’s feet? Or do they believe that passing a certain age defines a person as ‘over the hill’?
According to a new study, neither – a person is defined by how old they act, and how independent they are.
For instance, consumers who can no longer shop for themselves, complete housework, or drive their cars are considered ‘old,’ the study claims.
According to the new study by Oregon State University researcher Michelle Barnhart, activities that define one’s independence are the most important markers of age.
In much of America, a person’s independence is closely tied to their ability to drive, shop, and cook for themselves. Because of these unwritten adages, those who are too feeble to carry shopping bags or operate their vehicle are looked at as someone in their twilight years.
To conduct her research, Ms Barnhart conducted in-depth interviews with consumers in their late 80s, as well as their caregivers and family members – often the subject’s adult children in their 50s and 60s.
She found that the Baby Boomers, who are aging themselves, did not wish to be seen as old, but often treated their own parents as ‘old people’ – not allowing them to exercise independence where they could and assuming they’re scatterbrained as well as slow.
Because of this, she writes that conflicts are ripe to occur between the parents, who don’t see themselves as old, and their adult children, who do.
Ms Barnhart notes that those in their 80s and 90s are often dealing with negative connotations of old age. ‘Almost every stereotype we associate with being elderly is something negative,’ she said, ‘from being “crotchety” and unwilling to change to being forgetful.’
One woman she interviewed, ‘Abbie,’ is 89. When her adult daughters drove her to a routine doctor’s appointment and accompanied her into the exam room, the doctor addressed her daughters and wouldn’t talk to Abbie.
At later appointments, Abbie told her daughters to remain in the waiting room while she was meeting with her physician.
Ms Barnhart writes that part of the problem with ‘old age’ is that society tends to marginalize those who are advanced in years, rather than valuing them for their wisdom.
‘Unless we change the way we view old age, the generation younger than the boomers will treat them the same way as soon as they show a few more wrinkles, or seem a bit shaky on their feet,’ she said.
Her full study will be published in the April 2013 edition of the Journal of Consumer Research.