A Good Death
Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Are You Ageist?

category_bug_ageism.gif Last Friday, David Wolfe of the Ageless Marketing blog, left a comment about how almost everyone is ageist:

“I find that even people who think they are not ageist often in fact are. I have referred a number of people to the Harvard Implicit Association Test (IAT) which is designed to reveal a variety of negative biases including ageism. Some very good friends of mine who lovingly work with seniors have been shocked to learn that they are biased against aging.

“You will remember from my current series on Jung's Seven Tasks of Aging that the first task is ‘To face the reality of aging and dying.’ I submit that until one fulfills that task, one will likely have a negative bias against aging.”

He followed up with a challenge to readers of Time Goes By to take a test to determine their level of ageism.

As it turns out, I wrote about this test on TGB two years ago and many of us were surprised to find that we had biases against elders ranging from slight to moderate. Two years ago when I took the test, I received this result:

“Your data suggest a slight automatic preference for young compared to old.”

Yesterday, I received this result:

“Your data suggest a strong automatic preference for young compared to old.”

Ahem. Not encouraging for someone who considers herself an advocate for elders.

David notes that rather than be troubled if our test results are less than stellar, we should ask ourselves “what we are going to do to transcend the bias so that no negative actions flow from it…

“Getting older doesn't do it,” continues David.

“I've met countless people in their 70s, 80s and older who are ageist. The battles that take place in senior housing "facilities" waged by the relatively fit against those in wheelchairs and on walkers coming into the same dining room are the result of ageism - the relatively fit rejecting those who are visibly less fit because the former associate aging with infirmity. People who wage such battles have failed to fulfill Jung's First Task of Aging.

"Incidentally, scores of non-profit organizations wanting to do good works for seniors call the communities they build for them "facilities." Is that not an ageist term? No one calls housing for younger people ‘facilities.’”

So try the test (you must have Javascript enabled) and then come back here and tell us how you did.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, new contributor Barbara Skinner tells us about searching for the perfect retirement home in Italy in A House in San Venanzo.]


I too was judged "very" ageist--based on a badly designed and misleading test. The IAT gives you a manual task to be performed quickly. First you learn to do the task with "good" things always associated with "young" faces. Then you are asked to do the task with "good" associated with "old" instead of "young." The second task is much more difficult than the first because it requires un-learning the previous association. But the test's authors instead assume that slowness or errors in making the second association results from my "ageism."

Out of curiosity, to see if all IAT tests are set up like this one to "prove" you are prejudiced, I tried a second test, on the association of men vs women with science. On the second test, I was found to be not prejudiced. In my opinion, that's purely because on the second test, they had my fingers "learn" to associate women with science before making them relearn that I had to associate women with liberal arts.

I was surprised that I showed no "automatic preference" this time. I've been wondering if I might not be ageist as I consider career alternatives for the next twenty years.

Your data suggest a moderate automatic preference for Old compared to Young.

I'm glad the researchers gave a disclaimer because I ask myself what are they really saying?

I'm told I have "...a strong preference for young compared to old." Young what? Old what?
I certainly don't interpret that to mean I prefer the young human being as a person over the old person as a human being. To assume otherwise would be a mistake.

I don't think this test even proves I prefer a young face over an older one. The question everyone should ask themselves, is what does this test actually measure?

Actually, we are inundated every day with research that gets manipulatively interpreted or inferences are made that just aren't true.

This test also judges how fast we respond to change, and how fast we as test takers are able to adapt. My stroke left me beyond fuzzy in the hand eye coordination catagory. I didn't finish. Confusion be me.

"Slight preference for old," here.

my results said I had a strong preference for young which I find hard to believe; so suspect the way they figure this test, not the accuracy (and commented there in the last part). I also ran into a problem when I saw one of 'their' old faces as young to me... I don't think I have a prejudice regarding young or old but if I had any one, it would likely be against the young. I try not to let either impact my judgments as to who people are. I thought about trying one of their other tests, as one of your above commenters did, but decided I didn't want to start my morning by finding that according to them I am prejudiced against anybody else :)

incidentally, on my test, it had the old/good connection first; and the young/good connection last. Perhaps they vary this order for people taking it but wouldn't it impact their results artificially no matter how they tried to adjust for a person's increasing familiarity with how to react?

My results: a slight automatic preference for old over young. I've always enjoyed older people and now thinking about it, I guess I felt them to be more honest and trustworthy. I've always had an older friends - mother/ father substitutes maybe. Even now, at 72, I have a good friend who is 86. Of all the older people I've know, there wasn't a wimp among them and they've always been strong characters with other qualities to admire. It was interesting to see such a small number (4%) fall into this catagery.

My results showed a moderate automatic preference for Old compared to Young. Apparently only 2% fall into this category. I don't think it's an accurate reflection of my biases/non-biases at all.

As others have mentioned, I think that assuming hesitation or difference in response time is a direct result of bias is flawed. More likely, in my case, the results skewed toward Old because I was trying so hard NOT to be biased.

Is ageist an actual word ?

Slight preference for young over old. In my case, the Old/Good combo started first. It must vary on a per test basis.

I was surprised to find out I had "little or no automatic preference between young and old." I thought surely I would be influenced by the cultural perceptions of old and young in this country. Maybe this is because I was raised by a mother who did not judge anyone based on their age, sex, color, or religion.

Once my mother was asked if she was prejudice and she replied, "Yes, but not here (pointing to the skin on the back of her hand), here (pointing to her brain). I hate ignorant people. Especially when they are unwilling to learn or change"

I was lucky to have her as my mother.

It is a very stupid test. People I would say are young are "correctly" marked as old.

Stupid, and useless.

I don't think I had ever taken the test before.
I'm just wondering about accuracy ;)
Too automatic, but here are my results
You have completed the Young - Old IAT.
Your Result
Your data suggest little to no automatic preference between Young and Old.

My test said I have a slight automatic preference for young over old...but to me young can be 50.

I came out as having a "strong strong automatic preference for young compared to old," too. That could be true. I have a strong automatic preference for a lot of things I don't indulge in or follow through on, and a deepseated, reflective preference for things I don't indulge in either. This little quiz strengthens my opinion that the term "social science" is an oxymoron. I would like to see the psychologists, sociologists, et al return to their roots in philosophy and leave the use of scientific method to studying things less complex and nuanced than human attitudes and behaviors.

For some reason the test died on me while I was taking it. I didn't bother to try again.

I know for a fact I'm biased towards older people and have been most of my life. I tend to equate age with wisdom. It's been a disappointment to discover that isn't always true, but that bias has been a real blessing to me as I get older and hopefully wiser.

I am now 67.

I scored neutral (Little or no automatic preference between young and old)as did Claude. I agree with "la peregrina". I think it might be a cultural thing. It was instilled in me very early to judge a person by their actions and not skin color, religion or ethnic background.

"Your data suggest a moderate automatic preference for Young compared to Old." That's probably about right about me. In reality, I don't enjoy young people much, though I believe strongly that I should try to be around them, understand them, etc. I work on this.

But I know I've got all the normal social attitudes -- and the normal fear of dying that goes with being almost 60. No choice in the matter, so I hope I can come to peace with reality.

As for the test, I think it tests "test taking ability," something some of us got very good at and that probably influences results. I vacillated between wanting to "do it right" and not giving a damn.

Your data suggest a strong automatic preference for Young compared to Old.

I think the test was fair and highly enlightening, especially when one considers all the comments of those who took the test before me and indicated so above.

The java script was haywire at the endo of the test, it ended up opening about 30 windows with IE.

"little or no automatic preference between young and old."

For me this test was nothing about young and old or good and bad or ageism at all. It was all about right and left and remembering a pattern and how my brain operates.

What I found interesting about the IAT, is it's ability to assume how stupid we are.

All positive words and young faces were put together while negative words and old faces were grouped.

Talk about ageism. It's in the bloody test!

Little or no automatic preference.

That fits, in that I enjoy both old and young people for different reasons.

But I thought it was as much a test of your ability to quickly form and then break habits as anything else.

I also thought that neither the young nor the old faces were attractive. That was probably intentional.

I am shocked! Slight preference for young compared to old...and I spend a lot of time with older people! Very thought-provoking! Makes you wonder, doesn't it? Hmmm...

I agree entirely with Betsy Divine, the first person to comment here. I also tried the 'Native IAT' which was impossible for me to do with my non-American background. If they had stuck to faces and not included geographical landmarks I might have been in with a chance. Today the pictures of places were replaced with just the name of the countries. And why did they use portraits from the 19th century? Do native Americans still wear feathers in their hair, or white Americans still dress like my great grandmother? I thought not.

I found it a little hokey because of the mixing up of the titles-- left to right-- and the instruction to be speedy. I ended up moderate preference for the old... I can live with that, but I feel like I could easily have skewed the result because I forgot the pairing of the good+age changing. Yeah, I suppose I should have been able to get that immediately, but heck, I'm old.

Thanks for the link--a definite eye-opener. I scored a moderate automatic preference for Young compared to Old.
Perhaps because I see my youth slipping away???

Your data suggest a moderate automatic preference for Old compared to Young.

"Your data suggest a slight automatic preference for young compared to old."
Hmmmm- interesting tests and comments. I took two tests also, the second one being the gay/straight IAT. The results were similar, showing a slight preference for straight people. Weird, since I am gay; perhaps the fact that I didn't understand that about myself until I was 47 may have influenced the results.
I feel that there are so many variables that the tests could NOT measure that the results are fairly useless. It is really hard, for example, for me to assign a good/bad label to an emotion, for goodness sakes!
Oh well, I guess if we all agreed these tester-folks would have little to do all day.

"Your data suggest little to no automatic preference between Old and Young."

i'm 48 and have always preferred old people since i've been a little kid. i have 5 daughters.

i agree with a couple of the people in the comments above, the test itself seemed somehow ageist.

for whatever it's worth. i've got a year and a half before i can start contributing stories. looking forward to it.

Very interesting test and I wasn't surprised at all with my results, "Little to no automatic preference between old and young." I realize I'm only in the 14% bracket with my results. But I find it difficult and always have to understand how age, color, religious beliefs, etc. could actually form our feelings toward certain people, but I'm intelligent enough to realize that, unfortunately, for many people it certainly does.
Thanks for the link, Ronni, as the other tests were interesting also.

Your data suggest little to no automatic preference between Young and Old.

seems mostly accurate to me

My data suggested a moderate automatic preference for young compared to old. I am shocked because I love to work and interact with older people. My last job involved me being a care-taker for the senior citizens in their homes, and I got alone and understood them well. I always pictured older minds returning back to a younger mind, so maybe that's why my biases indicated this.

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