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Age and Social Identity: The Subtle and Brutal Nature of Age Discrimination Dominic Abrams Director, Centre for the Study of Group Processes Department.

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Presentation on theme: "Age and Social Identity: The Subtle and Brutal Nature of Age Discrimination Dominic Abrams Director, Centre for the Study of Group Processes Department."— Presentation transcript:


2 Age and Social Identity: The Subtle and Brutal Nature of Age Discrimination Dominic Abrams Director, Centre for the Study of Group Processes Department of Psychology University of Kent National Institute of Economic and Social Research Conference ‘Tackling Age Discrimination in Britain: The Employment (Age) Equality Regulations and Beyond’. The British Academy, London, September 29th 2006

3 Overview An evidence-based framework for understanding the social bases of age discrimination General ageist stereotypes and their implications Evidence from Age Concern England’s research on ageism and intergenerational contact Intergenerational solutions - experimental evidence on counteracting ageist stereotypes Social and Practical Implications More to think about….

4 The Problem Age is an aspect of everyone’s identity Ageism may be: non-conscious, implicit, and even seem ‘benevolent’ Ageism is under-researched compared with other types of prejudice Relatively little work on the causes and underpinnings of ageism – the processes Difficult to group people by age – key issue is relationships across age boundaries

5 Some Social Psychological Evidence-based Theory Group Perception Theory – several factors increase the sense that people are bound together as a group, but may also increase stereotyping Social Identity Theory – group-based identity provides distinctiveness meaning and value for the self-concept, as well as a potential source of bias and hostility Intergroup Contact Theory – friendship-based contact between individuals across group boundaries increases trust, mutual disclosure, and positive attitudes to the other group as a whole Common Ingroup Identity – greatly improved intergroup relationships when people can find a basis for shared identity across groups

6 The Consequences of Stereotypes Inference Observation Category-Based Stereotype Confirmation Others Self

7 Example: A person prangs the car Is the person 17 or 70? Apply stereotype >> Infer cause Older >> Incompetent >> Doddery Driver Younger >> Impetuous >> Inexperienced Driver Apply remedy Older >>> Remove driving license for ever Younger >>> Fine, more lessons

8 ACE National Surveys of Ageism September/October 2004, 1843 respondents Examine the links between elements of ageism in society Questions relating to the “under 30’s” and “over 70’s” Among issues examined: –Age categorization –Stereotypes –Positive intergenerational contact Summary report ‘How Ageist is Britain?’ available on New Survey, August 2006, 2113 respondents

9 Age Categorisation At what age do you think old age starts? At what age do you think people stop being young?

10 Tackling Age Discrimination Beyond the Workplace Prevalence of discrimination in Britain In the past year how often has someone treated you unfairly because of your: -Gender -Age -Religion -Race or ethnic background -Any disability -Sexual orientation

11 Stereotyping older people To what extent are people over 70 viewed: With admiration With pity With envy With disgust As friendly As capable As intelligent As moral?

12 Older People are “Doddery (but Dear)” Key traits: Differences in ‘warmth’ and ‘competence’ stereotypes between older and younger people

13 Summary so far.. Age begins 15 years after the end of youth Experience of ageism is more prevalent than of all other forms of prejudice Older people are stereotyped as ‘warm’ but ‘incompetent’ – benevolent prejudice Intergenerational contact is restricted by age What might be the consequences?

14 Stereotype Threat Stereotypes create disadvantage –the ‘burden of suspicion’ that a negative stereotype about one’s group’s abilities may be confirmed E.g. women worse at maths, Black students worse (than white) at maths, Asian students better at maths, gay men a ‘risk to children’. –Older people less competent?

15 –When reminded of negative stereotypes of older people, their cognitive performance gets worse (e.g. Levy, 1996). –When told that younger people have better memories, older people’s memory performance gets worse (Hess, Auman, Colcombe & Rahal, 2003).

16 Can Group-Based Stereotype Threat Be Reduced? Closer contact between generations may reduce the psychological distance between ‘old’ and ‘young’. In turn this may weaken the expected stereotypes and so reduce stereotype threat

17 Looking ahead: Contact with the over 70's and beliefs about their declining competence Inter- generational Relationships

18 Evidence from the ACE 2004 Survey 70+ (n=278) Looking back: Intergenerational Contact and Self-Stereotypes Among the Over 70s

19 Experimental Evidence: Test of Cognitive Ability Experiment 1: Does intergenerational friendship ward off stereotypes? (Abrams, Eller, Bryant, Psychology and Aging, in press) 97 participants over the age of 59 –“see whether old people do perform more poorly on intellectual tasks than young people” (threat). Vs –“see how people differ in their responses on different tasks” (no threat).

20 Measures Various types of positive intergenerational contact Performance Anxiety Intergenerational attitudes

21 Effect of Stereotype Threat and Intergenerational Contact on Cognitive Performance

22 Anxiety During Performance

23 How Intergenerational Contact Prevents Stereotype Threat Effects Under Performance High Anxiety Low Anxiety True Performance Low Positive Contact High Positive Contact Threat

24 Tackling Age Discrimination Beyond the Workplace Intergenerational Contact, Stereotype Threat and Intergenerational Attitudes

25 For Older People, Positive Intergenerational Contact is Associated with: Reduced Negative Self-Stereotypes Reduced Negative Intergenerational Bias Reduced Threat-related Test Anxiety Improved Performance on Cognitive Tests

26 Caveats Era and culture differences in respect Conflictual integenerational relationships Contact but no relationship Segregation is ‘good for mental well being’ What about discrimination against younger people?

27 Conclusions for Research, Policy & Practice Prejudice and stereotypes are often embedded in relationships Ageism is a dynamic form of intercategory prejudice affecting young and old in different ways Effective policy depends on researching and understanding factors that elevate and reduce prejudice Increasing positive cross-group relationships can create substantial direct and indirect benefits for all individuals Increasing intergenerational relationships, reducing exclusion isolation and segregation,will have positive economic and societal consequences

28 Acknowledgements Leslie Sopp Age Concern Research Services Sujata Ray and Andrew Harrop ACE Tendayi Viki, Anat Bardi, Georgina Randsley de Moura Centre for the Study of Group Processes, University of Kent

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