Ageist Media Attacks on Older Canadians: not to be taken lying down

A sense of humor is important as we age but ageist advertising is no laughing matter. Just think of all the messages we receive and internalize every time we turn on the television or flip through a magazine. It is estimated that the average adult is exposed to 100 to 300 ads a day and many researchers argue that advertising might project a more devastating image of older adults than any other type of media. But why should we care? Because new research shows that ageism is actually detrimental to your health.

A study conducted at Yale University found that older individuals with more positive self-perceptions of aging lived 7.5 years longer than those with less positive self-perceptions of aging. This advantage remained after age, gender, socio-economic status, loneliness and functional health were factored as co-variates. Further research by the same academics found that watching more television increased older adults negative views of aging but that keeping a journal of their viewing habits and thoughts increased their awareness of these negative stereotypes and mitigated their effect.

Ageism can be flagrant, (this comes to mind) but in other instances it can be hard to specifically pinpoint what constitutes ageism. Yet the figures clearly show there is an overall problem with the depiction of older adults on television, as evidenced by either their conspicuous absence, or by negative depictions. Although the over 65 constitute about 12.7% of the population, they comprise less than 2% of prime-time television characters. Another study showed that 70% of older men and more than 80% of older women seen on television were portrayed disrespectfully, treated with little courtesy and often perceived as “bad”.

So what’s to be done about it? The current system of regulation surrounding negative stereotyping in the media is consumer complaint driven, so the power to instigate change starts with you. The Advertising Standards of Canada is a self-regulatory body created by the advertising industry in 1975. Their responsibilities include surveying consumer complaints to determine if any specific advertisers have violated the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards which deals with unacceptable depictions and portrayals and indicates that advertisements shall not condone any form of personal discrimination, including age discrimination. Another self-regulatory industry body is the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB), their Equitable Portrayal Code also prohibits age based stereotyping. The Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission [CRTC] monitors broadcaster compliance with that code and this becomes especially pertinent when a broadcaster seeks to renew their license. If you see something you feel is dehumanizing and negatively stereotypes older people, you should file a complaint with these organizations.

For information on how to submit a complaint to the Advertising Standards Council of Canada, click here

To file a complaint with the CRTC, please click here

But more may be required. In 1979, when 50% of all women had entered the workforce, the government developed a national action plan, Towards Equality for Women, aimed at eliminating the discrimination that women had traditionally faced. At the time, Cabinet considered that the CRTC was the agency that could “most appropriately take steps to see that guidelines and standards to encourage the elimination of sex-role stereotyping from the media it regulates…” The CRTC set up a Task Force and the initiative to eliminate sex-role stereotyping carried on for half a decade.