Aging Stereotype

Aging Stereotype. Many  books about life after age 60 emphasizes 'how to hold onto' adulthood. Aging is viewed as a decline, a series of losses - until you reach the ultimate loss - the loss of life itself. This view of live after age 50 is an Aging Stereotype - and it mistaken.

Current psychology in much of the developed world  seems to favor adulthood as the peak of human development. (This is not surprising since most practicing psychologists and gerontologists are adults.)

Understanding the Aging Stereotype

There was a time when children were seen as 'little adults'. But after Jean Piaget suggested  that childhood is a special phase of human life, that it is not just 'adulthood writ small' and that children are a worthy object of scientific study, the field of child psychology burgeoned.

Pick up any  college catalog and you will see many courses about childhood and its various 'stages'. Basic to all these courses is the idea childhood and adulthood are very different and that moving to adulthood is the  goal of human beings.

Childhood is a long preparation for adulthood and providing a child with a 'good childhood experiences' will allow that child to mature into a productive and happy adult. And if an adult is not productive and happy, the 'cause' is usually assumed to be negative childhood experiences.

Adulthood in much of the developed world is THE goal. Adulthood is a most important life stage. Adults make the economy work, they give birth to and rear children. They create laws, lead the nation and are generally viewed as the 'movers and doers' of society. There is nothing in adult psychology that mirrors the notion found in child psychology that this particular stage of human development is a preparation for a new and even more important stage . . .  Elderhood.

Instead of viewing Elderhood as the 'crowning achievement' of life, we are offered an Aging Stereotype -  the stage after adulthood as a a time when life is in decline. This is  The Aging Stereotype.

(Note that the stage of human development that follows adulthood is called 'aging' - as though going from age 17 to age 29 is NOT aging. The Aging Stereotype describes our last stage of development as a long, slow decline  - a period of losses and grieving the bygone adult powers and prestige.

Such are the fundamental beliefs of the  Aging Stereotype. Those who hold this view spend much energy trying to figure out how people can 'hold onto' adult characteristics and skills. At the same time they refuse Elders any of the power and prestige of adulthood - even if elders retain many of their adult skills.

The Aging Stereotype is at best a false view of human development and at worst it is degrading to those in the last third of their lives.

A different view

There is an alternative to this Aging Stereotype.  This view holds that there are at least 3 big stages of human development: childhood, adulthood and elderhood

AND that goal of human existence is progressive growth though these three stages. Why? So that at the end of ones life you are ready to move on because you have lived a full and complete human life. You have been a child, an adult and an elder.

Yes,  Elderhood is the third stage of human development. And using this name removes any Aging Stereotype. (It also removes current bias of the primacy of adulthood.)

But I have yet to see a course on Elderhood listed in any college catalog. Oh, there are courses in gerontology and aging. And most of these concentrate on 'inevitable decline' and 'how we can help these people'.

Now of course there are losses as you move to elderhood. Just as there were losses when you moved from childhood to adulthood. But somehow in the current state of things only  the losses of adult tasks and powers are seen as  losses that count. No one speaks of the losses children face as they move into adulthood - only those adults face when moving into Elderhood.

Perhaps this skewing of psychology towards the primacy of adulthood is caused by the fact that most academic studies are done by adults and adults have not yet lived as elders. They have no experiential knowledge of their own elderhood and so they judge everything out of their own bias concerning the centrality and importance of adulthood.

To understand the unconscious bias towards their own adulthood, consider what would happen to views of Adulthood if most of what we knew about it was written by children.  Children have no personal experiences of being an adult, they ,too, would concentrate on what a person loses in becoming an adult.

Ask children what it is like to be an adult and after they say a few good things related to power or prestige , the children are likely to talk about things that are lost in becoming an adult.Depending on their age, children say that in Adulthood:

  • You can not play all day.
  • You have to go to work all the time.
  • You need to think and worry about money
  • No one tucks you in each night... or takes care of you when you are sick
  • You can not play in Little League (or Pop WArner or...)
  • You have lots of RESPONSIBILITY
  • The list goes on....

Notice, that children know that adults have power but when it gets to the nitty gritty,  children can not help but notice the things they would lose by being an adult. For children, adulthood is about losses. Why? Because children have not experienced and do not understand the special joys of adulthood. So , too, adults who have not experienced the positive aspects of Elderhood,do not value Elderhood. They emphasize the losses.

Children can not value what they do not know. If children were to write the textbooks about adulthood, these texts might be full of advice as to how to hold onto some of the joys and experience of childhood. Just as adults who DO write the texts about Elderhood give advice about how to 'hold onto' aspects of adulthood but offer NO INSIGHT into any of the special joys or tasks of Elderhood. So it is that we have the Aging Stereotype of 'inevitable decline'.

To summarize:

Adults have NOT experienced the joys of Elderhood. Once they get past a few cliches, they tend to focus on the losses that they, as adults, will experience. Adults do not perceive the positive values of elderhood because they have no clue as to what they are and just as children do not imagine thatthere are a host special joys to being an adult, so, too, adults do not imagine that there are special joys of Elderhood. It never occurs to them to ask about them and even if they were to ask, most adults have no psychological context to appreciate the answers.

We who are elders need to read the works of other elders and we need to rethink the whole view of Aging.  That is what this web site is about. I hope you will read more....and come back and read again.

Read more at :

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