Visual Ageism in the Media

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Researchers have long used content analysis techniques to document the frequency of stereotypical representations in the media, but the interest in studying ageism in the media is relatively recent. We approach older people's representation in the media by considering visual aspects - depictions in visual documents, such as photos and video materials - with a focus on television programs and print and television advertisements. We introduce the concept of "visual ageism": the social practice of visually underrepresenting older people or misrepresenting them in a prejudiced way. According to previous studies, over time, media representations of older people have moved from visual under- and misrepresentation (negative images) to more positive depictions. Our review of empirical studies conducted since 1950 in Europe and North America reveals that print and television advertisements started the transition towards a more positive visual representation of older people during the last decade of the twentieth century; followed by television programs some years later. This is probably due to the increase in third age rhetoric in the media, picturing younger-old adults as healthy and as potential consumers. Our analysis also shows that the older-old (fourth age) group continues to be underrepresented in the visual media. Finally, we suggest ways of reducing visual ageism by adopting a design for dynamic diversity approach.


Visual ageism Media representations Third age Fourth age Successful ageing

Source: Eugène Loos, Loredana Ivan,
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