The proportion of older adults in the population is increasing rapidly in all western industrialized countries including Canada giving rise to social, political and economic challenges. Within Canada, in 2020 the province of Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) had the highest proportion of older adults (22.3%) of all Canadian provinces and territories (Statistics Canada, 2020). Given the aging demographics, it is important to understand how older adults are perceived by younger adults. Negative attitudes can contribute to ageist behaviours and to discrimination and mistreatment of older people, despite the strengths and benefits that come when older adults are able to participate fully in their communities, sharing their time, knowledge
Some research has found that older adults (typically defined as ages 65 and older) are perceived positively. However, most research indicates that negative attitudes/perceptions of older adults tend to predominate. Many of the more negative views of older adults tend to be reported by younger age groups. One factor that might reduce young adults’ negative attitudes
toward older adults is contact with older adults. Research investigating intergenerational contact has found that cross-age contact can challenge stereotypes and modify the attitudes and perceptions that younger and older adults have of one another.
Is it possible that growing up in a small rural community may increase intergenerational contact and that this increased contact, particularly good quality contact, could improve younger adults’ attitudes toward older adults? Perhaps the typical negative attitudes toward older adults are ameliorated in rural NL where 60% of the province’s population reside (Simms &
Greenwood, 2015)? However, it is not clear whether this is the case in rural NL -- or anywhere in rural Canada -- as younger rural Canadians’ attitudes toward older adults have not been systematically assessed. There is also a paucity of Canadian data on the attitudes of younger adults from non-rural settings toward older adults.
The present research employed an online survey to assess the attitudes of younger male and female adults’ toward fictitious older male and female adults (ages 65 and above). The younger adults were undergraduate students who grew up in rural1 and non-rural communities, mostly in NL. The frequency and quality of intergenerational contact was assessed for both younger rural and non-rural participants and their friends to determine if these factors affected attitudes toward older adults. Finally, the study also evaluated the possible influence of the gender of the younger adult doing the rating and the assigned gender of the older adult being rated. With respect to the gender of the older adult, some researchers have reported that older males are perceived more favourably than older females who tend to be subjected to more negative biases and prejudices but research results are mixed. For example Marques et al. (2020) reviewed 199 studies and found no consistent effect of gender of the older adult on attitudes.
Overall, attitudes toward older adults were slightly positive among most groups. Analysis of variance indicated that younger females rated older adults (female and male) significantly more positively than younger males. Attitudes toward older females were significantly more positive than toward older males for both female and male younger adults who grew up in either
rural or non-rural home communities. Size of home community did not affect attitudes toward older adults. Quality of intergenerational contact was the strongest predictor of attitudes toward older adults. Other analyses confirmed these findings
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