Friday, 23 September 2016

"Granny farming": An Analysis of Ageist Attitudes in the "Economist"

Martin et al. (2009) used the online digital archive of the "Economist" from January 1997 to May 2008 to study attitudes to ageing in the economic newspaper. Article content was assessed for stigmatisation of older people on account of their age or ageing and language was classified suggesting a less desirable (negative language portraying older people as a burden, as people with reduced personal worth) vs. more desirable (positive language portraying older people as a benefit to society) state because of older age.

Of the 6306 articles, 262 were relevant. The results:
168 articles portrayed population ageing as a burden,
63 articles portrayed a balanced view, and
31 portrayed it as a benefit.

Content analysis showed that articles about pensions and demography depicted population ageing in the most negative light. The authors analysed a ten-year period but could not discover a shift in attitudes over time. "The numbers of articles portraying older people in a negative or positive light were comparable between 1997 and 2008."

Some quotes:

- "The older they get, the more they cost" (23 September 2004)
- "Fewer and wrinklier Europeans" (13 January 2000)
- "They waddle slowly through the shopping malls; drive with exaggerated care on the freeways; fumble with their change at the check-out tills" (Venerable elders, 22 July 1999)
- "After years of warnings about the “demographic time bomb” due to detonate some time around 2020 (All-clear?" 13 April 2000)
- "Given that they all agree that a demographic “pension time-bomb” is ticking, Europe’s policymakers have done remarkably little to defuse it" (Old hopes stirring, 12 October 2000)
- "Wrinklies" (Fewer and wrinklier Europeans, 13 January 2000)
- "Weary crumblies" (Who wants to live forever? 21 December 2000)
- "Granny farming" (27 November 1997)
- "At what point does an ageing mind become a liability and not an asset" (Wisdom or senility, 16 February 2006)

- Martin, R., Williams, C. & O'Neill, D. (2009). Retrospective analysis of attitudes to ageing in the Economist: apocalyptic demography for opinion formers. BMJ, online
- photographs by Robert Frank via and via and via