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How society perceives aging can reinforce negative self-stereotypes related to age

Previtali F, Keskinen K, Niska M, Nikander P. Ageism in working life: A scoping review on discursive approaches The Gerontologist. 2020.

Review question

      What does qualitative research add to our understanding of ageism in working life?


      There is a growing body of literature interested in the nature of ageism in the context of working life.

      Wide-ranging quantitative reviews have been published on ageism. These reviews reveal that ageism is present in the workforce and that it creates barriers in recruitment, career advancement, training opportunities, retirement decision, and in the relations between managers, or employers, and employees.

      The aim of this review is to highlight the contribution of qualitative studies to ageism research specifically in the context of working life.

How the review was done

      Review authors conducted a detailed search of seven research databases for eligible articles for inclusion.

      Keywords used in the search included variations of the following terms: ageism, discourse, communication, and narrative.

      A total of 851 articles were retrieved from the initial search, of which 39 were included in the review.

      This project received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 764632. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

What the researchers found

      The review revealed three main themes: a) experiences of ageism, b) social construction of age and ageist ideologies, and c) strategies to counteract ageism.

      Thirteen studies reported on experiences of ageism, whereby researchers allowed participants to describe their experiences of stereotypical treatment and discrimination because of their age. Research participants often explained ageism with reference to their personal attributes, such as slowing bodies, decreased work ability, increased health problems, and low skills and ability to learn new things. Beyond these negative attributes, research participants also discussed ageism in relation to their overqualification and the expensiveness that comes with experience.

      Conceptualizations and ideologies regarding age are collaboratively constructed in our society, and they become tangible in social interaction. Review authors identified different types of ideologies and social constructions regarding ageism in the working life: aging as a hindering process, the normative construction of the life course, the “othering” of older workers, and the organizational ageist discourses.

      In terms of strategies to counteract ageism, this review included discussions on coping strategies. The main coping resource reported by participants was social support, which was found to increase the sense of membership to the work community and personal value.


      The review showed that workers of all ages adapt to the conceptualization society has adopted regarding aging. These are rooted in a youthfulness ideology and reinforced by a normative life course.

      In working life, individuals are labelled as older or younger when they enter a certain chronological age. This labelling attaches a predefined identity to a single person and thus reinforces negative self-stereotypes related to age.


Related Topics

Related Web Resources

  • Work, Care and the Carer-Inclusive and Accommodating Organizations (CIAO) Standard

    The Vanier Institute of the Family
    The Carer-Inclusive and Accommodating Organizations (CIAO) Standard supports employees who are also informal caregivers. It helps employers and employees work together to balance work and caregiving responsibilities. A standard can help ensure employees feel more supported in their jobs. It also encourages employee retention and recruitment. Read this resource to learn more.
  • Promoting the labour force participation of older Canadians

    Health Canada
    This resource describes Canadian plans to help older adults to work for longer such as by increasing education, helping find jobs and handle health issues.
  • Infographic: Women, Caregiving and Work in Canada

    The Vanier Institute of the Family
    Caregivers have disproportionately been women. Women are also more likely to encounter challenges at work due to their caregiver status. Read this resource to learn more about the status of women workers and caregivers.
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