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ATTITUDES TOWARD OLDER ADULTS

by Mary E. Kite and Lisa Smith Wagner

Old age is a social category we join or anticipate joining with feelings of ambivalence. As has often been noted, most of us aspire to reach old age; after all, the alternative is to die young. Yet most North Americans are reluctant to accept aging gracefully and often hold ageist attitudes and beliefs. In our society, youth is the standard held in highest esteem. From commercials promoting products to stop the aging process to party decorations labeling age 50 "over the hill," the message that youth is valued is impossible to ignore. At the same time, the population is aging at an unprecedented rate. The proportion of U.S. residents over the age of 65 rose from 9.2 percent in 1960 to 12.6 percent in 1990 and is predicted to reach 17.7 percent in 2020 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1989). The baby boomers are rapidly moving into retirement, bringing with them a model for prosperity and
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