Does life imitate art? Or, is it the other way around? Well, according to a new study, when it comes to negative aging stereotypes in movies, both perspectives could be true!

Let’s start with the facts. According to a recent study by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, ageism may not just be insulting, it may also be downright unhealthy.

In the study, researchers looked at 4,066 speaking roles in the top grossing films for 2015. They discovered that only 11% of the speaking roles went to actors over 60. This is despite the fact that this age group represents over 18% of the U.S. population.

Worse still, more than half of the roles in which older actors and actresses were cast reinforced aging stereotypes. Specifically, they were connected to characters that were frail, tired and technology illiterate.

Why Are Aging Stereotypes in Movies Bad?

By now, you may be thinking, “So what? It’s not pleasant that older adults are treated as punch lines in the movies, but, it is really such a big deal?”

I think it is! For starters, researchers in the study pointed out that older adults who watched the films that reinforced aging stereotypes felt more pessimistic and older.

This is consistent with previous research from the University of California, San Diego, which found that students that were “primed” (exposed to) words related to old age actually walked slower when they left the building than students who were exposed to control words.

In other words, when taken in combination, these studies support the idea that aging stereotypes are self-reinforcing. The more we see older adults acting frail, forgetful and technology illiterate in the movies, the more likely we will be to follow their example. The scary thing is that we might not even realize that we are being influenced by what we see on the big screen.

What Can We Do to Fight Back?

I have two suggestions. First, I would highly recommend avoiding movies that reinforce tired aging stereotypes. Don’t go to them yourself and don’t take your grandkids to them. Hollywood doesn’t care about us. They only care about making money. That’s not a criticism. It’s just a fact. We are one of the largest consumer groups in the world. Let’s put our money where our mouth is.

Second, if you do decide to go to a movie that includes a weak older character, be an active consumer. Pay attention to how you are being manipulated and try to see the whole thing as a joke. Silently remind yourself that people our age are doing amazing things. We are swimming in shark infested waters, going back to school, starting technology companies, becoming professional weight lifters, taking up tango dancing and more!

Remember: We may be weak on the big screen, but, we are strong in real life!

Who is your favorite older actor or actress? Which of their films do you love the most? Do you agree that older adults are usually unfairly stereotyped in movies? Please join the conversation!

Let's Have a Conversation!