Date of Graduation

Spring 2009


Master of Arts in Communication



Committee Chair

Isabelle Bauman


ageism, ageist stereotypes, images, intergenerational, old

Subject Categories



Growing old is a natural life process, though few older Americans want to be labeled "old." This intergenerational research explored American perceptions of what it means to be old for seven adults (ages 70 to 94) and eight children (ages 8 and 9) living in Missouri. Qualitative data were collected from observations, questionnaires, interviews, and participant drawings. This study also explored the influence of grandparents as aging role models for children's perceptions of old age in general and how they imagine themselves as old people. Key Findings: (1) All children identified physical characteristics and specific chronological ages when describing older people. Adults identified more psychological traits. Almost all participants in both study groups identified old age with chronological and functional descriptions. (2) While all participants communicated ageist stereotypes about older people in general, most images of themselves as old people were positive. (3) Two adults and two children thought of themselves now as being old. (4) Grandparents significantly influence children's perceptions of ageing, though frequency of grandchild-grandparent communication interactions had no bearing on children's perceptions of closeness to grandparents. (5) Children's images of grandparents were often repeated in positive images of themselves as active and healthy older people enjoying a variety of leisure activities. (6) Although most children said being old can be fun, they did not look personally look forward to growing old. Adults most often described older people as having poor physical and mental health or losing their independence.


© Kathryn D. Long

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