In the Eye of the Beholder: Can Counter-Stereotypes Change Perceptions of Older Adults’ Social Status?

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Negative age-related stereotypes often entail the perception that older adults have a lower social status than middle-aged adults. We hypothesized that older adults are perceived to have lower social status because they are less likely to be seen in prestigious occupational positions. People tend to infer general assumptions about group characteristics from exemplars. According to this, presenting a stereotype-inconsistent exemplar (i.e., older person in a high-status position) should change perceptions of older adults’ social status. Study 1 (60 countries, N = 86,026, 18–99 years) showed that people in countries with an older relative to a younger political leader do not perceive as great a decline in social status from middle-aged to older adults. Study 2 (N = 131; 19–74 years) tested the causal link demonstrating that participants exposed to older exemplars holding a prestigious occupational position were significantly more likely to rate older adults as having a relative higher social status. We discuss implications for future interventions to change negative age-related stereotypes.

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