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Subtyping Ageism: Policy Issues in Succession and Consumption


Michael S. North, Department of Psychology, Green Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08540. Tel: 609 258 6081 [e-mail:].


Ageism research tends to lump “older people” together as one group, as do policy matters that conceptualize everyone over 65 as “senior.” This approach is problematic primarily because it often fails to represent accurately a rapidly growing, diverse, and healthy older population. In light of this, we review the ageism literature, emphasizing the importance of distinguishing between the still-active “young-old” and the potentially more impaired “old-old” (Neugarten). We argue that ageism theory has disproportionately focused on the old-old and differentiate the forms of age discrimination that apparently target each elder subgroup. In particular, we highlight the young-old's plights predominantly in the workplace and tensions concerning succession of desirable resources; by contrast, old-old predicaments likely center on consumption of shared resources outside of the workplace. For both social psychological researchers and policymakers, accurately subtyping ageism will help society best accommodate a burgeoning, diverse older population.

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