Children’s attitudes regarding older people – Are they ageist?

Children’s attitudes regarding older people – Are they ageist?

The literature presents mixed findings regarding the existence of ageism among children, which have been linked with the diversity of measures used. Joana Mendonça, PhD Candidate at the Lisbon University Institute, makes an attempt to clarifying the situation…

Several forms of prejudice, namely racism and sexism, refer to negative attitudes toward members from an out-group based on their race or gender. Both these categories are exclusive in the sense that people can hardly change their race or gender.

Differently, people belong to different age groups along their life course and, consequently, everybody can become a target of ageism. Stereotypes about older people and the ageing process become internalized over time and tend to eventually become self-stereotypes as people age, affecting negatively their future self-concept and well-being.

Faced with the mixed findings regarding the existence of ageism among children, we carried a literature review and proposed a classification of measures available to assess ageism based on two criteria:

  1. the dimensions: cognitive (what we know about older people), affective (what we feel regarding older people) and behavioral (how we behave or what are our intentional behaviors regarding older people); and
  2. the automaticity of the measures: explicit (deliberative, mindful and easily controlled, such as self-report questionnaires) or implicit (unintentional, efficient, non-conscious and uncontrolled such as drawing). 

Our research shows that the existence of ageism among children was more evident in studies using implicit measures than explicit ones. For instance, in a study using a puzzle task, children showed a clear preference for younger adults in comparison with older ones. Also in studies where children were asked to draw typical older persons, the drawings were mostly negative in their content, showing an association between old age and loneliness.

However, children’s representations of older people were more positive and diverse when asked to draw familiar older persons (e.g. a grandparent).

These findings allowed us to make recommendations regarding the improvement of measures to assess children’s attitudes toward older people across childhood. These measures can be very useful in several contexts, namely for a deeper understanding about the development of children’s attitudes regarding older people and for the assessment of intervention programs aimed to fight ageism at an early age.


Read also:

Our thematic page on ageism and intergenerational solidarity


Mendonça J., Marques S., Abrams D. (2018) Children’s Attitudes toward Older People: Current and Future Directions. In: Ayalon L., Tesch-Römer C. (eds) Contemporary Perspectives on Ageism. International Perspectives on Aging, vol 19. Springer, Cham:


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