Abstract: Dual Discrimination of Ageism and Racism Among Older Adults (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Dual Discrimination of Ageism and Racism Among Older Adults

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Janna Heyman, PhD, Professor and Chair, Fordham University, West Harrison, NY
Colette Phipps, MSW, Program Coordinator Research and Development, Westchester County Department of Senior Programs and Services
Peggy Kelly, MSW, Research Director, Fordham University, West Harrison, NY
Linda White-Ryan, PhD, Assistant Dean, Fordham University, West Harrison, NY
Derek Tice-Brown, PhD, Asst Professor, Fordham University, New York, NY
Background and Purpose: Although the older population is currently not as racially and ethnically diverse as the younger population in the United States, trends show a shift is underway. Whereas 21% of those 65 and over were from minority groups in 2012, this is expected to increase to 39% by the year 2050 (Ortman et al., 2014). These figures bely important implications for aging policy, including a rise in both racism and ageism towards older adults. Yet there is relatively little literature on older adults and perceptions of ageism and racism (Ayalon & Gum, 2011). To address this gap in the literature, the present study sought to answer the following research questions: (1) What are the experiences of older adults with ageism?; (2) What are the experiences of older adults with racism?; and (3) What are the factors associated with both ageism and racism among older adults?

Methods: The present study examines older adults’ perceptions of racial and age discrimination, and the impact that this has on their quality of life. The research used a cross-sectional design, drawing upon a convenience sample of 134 adults aged 60 and over at three different senior centers in a suburban community with racially and ethnically diverse populations. Participants’ perceptions and experiences with aging were assessed using the Attitudes to Aging Questionnaire (AAQ-24), and an adaptation of the Modern Racism Scale was used to assess perceptions of racism.

Results: The average age of participants was 76.1 years, and 74.2% were female. In terms of race, 44.8% were non-Hispanic white, 39.6% were African American/black, 13.4% were Hispanic/Latino, and 2.2% were Asian. Findings from the three subscales of the AAQ-24 (psychosocial loss, physical change, and psychological growth) indicated moderately high levels of ageism, and average scores for the racism scale also indicated moderate racism. Regression analysis showed no statistically significant results on any of the ageism subscales. However, regression analysis with racism as the dependent variable showed statistically significant results at p < .05, with the model explaining 38.9% of the variance in racism scores. Of the covariates in the model, race and gender were predictive factors in explaining overall perceived racism. Specifically, being African American raised the score on perceived racism by 8.43 (p = .00), out of a theoretical range from 11 of 55, and being female lowered the score by 2.35 (p = .05).

Conclusions and Implications: The findings from this study point to the importance of listening to and hearing the voices of older adults, particularly those from different racial groups. It helps to shed some light on what older adults feel about the aging process, as well as their encounters with racial discrimination. Older adults’ experiences and perceptions with ageism and racism can help shape policies for future generations. Greater effort is needed, however, in developing solutions for combatting both ageism and racism among older adults, particularly as the older population becomes increasingly diverse.