AARP and the FrameWorks Institute recently released a new study “Reframing Aging Through Images” that concluded communicators of all types have the power to shape people’s attitudes around aging simply based on the images they utilize.
The study of adults 18 and older found that images that show older adults working, engaging with other people and being active in everyday situations, such as walking or exercising, can have a positive impact on attitudes about aging. Conversely, images that show older people needing help with technology or demonstrating extraordinary physical feats, such as skydiving or surfing, can have a negative impact.
“Reframing Aging Through Images” emphasizes the importance of using authentic portrayals and avoiding stereotypes and encourages using imagery that shows older people engaged in genuine, active environments in media.
“This important research confirms what marketers know anecdotally: Language and imagery both reflect and reinforce societal beliefs,” said Martha Boudreau, AARP Chief Communications and Marketing Officer. “Imagery matters because it influences how we see others and how we see ourselves. Unfortunately, marketers and advertisers typically use outdated depictions of people later in life which perpetuates negative stereotypes of aging. It’s time for marketers to see the vast 50+ market for what it is – vibrant, consuming, working and living a multi-generation life. Tapping into the economic benefits of age-inclusive marketing starts with a true understanding of the 50-plus lifestyle and images that match.”
“Many of the implicit messages we receive about aging are based on extremes—either depicting frailty and total dependence, or superhuman strength and vitality,” said Nat Kendall-Taylor, CEO of the FrameWorks Institute. “Just like words, the images we use are powerful frames, signaling cultural meaning and value. That’s why it’s so important to use images of older people that don’t inadvertently activate stereotypes and further entrench unproductive misunderstandings.”
Activating positive concepts of aging may help to destigmatize growing older for everyone, the study found. For example, images of older adults in work settings can improve attitudes on aging more than images of older adults in community settings or at home. But, previous AARP research revealed that while 1 in 3 people in the U.S. labor force are 50 and older, only 13% of images showed this age group in a work setting.
Other notable findings from the new study include:
- Images that depict older people in positive settings, engaged in positive activities improve attitudes on aging more than those with a negative effect.
- Images of older adults who are physically active doing common recreational activities improve attitudes on aging more than images of older adults achieving unexpected physical feats.
- Images of unexpected physical feats actually increased respondents’agreement with negative stereotypes about older adults’ ability to live a full life.
- Images of older adults with limited mobility who are engaged with others improve attitudes on aging more than images in which they have limited mobility and are alone or isolated from others.
- Images of older adults uncomfortable with technology worsen attitudes on aging more than images where they appear to be comfortable with technology. Adults ages 35 to 49 were most likely to have a positive change in attitude after exposure to more authentic images of aging.
- Men responded more positively to images of older adults in work settings than their peers.