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Intergenerational Conflict? Think Again!

Bucking conventional wisdom that intergenerational conflict exists, the generations today are more inclined towards peace rather than war with each other, shows a new AARP and University of Southern California (USC) survey that looks at attitudes between generations.

The new AARP/USC survey, res of Aging, found that 91% of Americans believe that older Americans receive about or less than their fair share of local government benefits and 89% of Americans believe that older persons have the right amount or too little influence in this country.

Most Americans (85%) felt that older residents help to improve the quality of life in their community, and half (49%) felt that the economic benefits older residents bring to their community make up for the amount local government spends on them. Nearly nine in ten Americans (85%) feel that older people deserve a special amount of respect because of their age, identical to the percent who felt that way ten years ago.

"We said recently on the cover of AARP The Magazine–Sixty is The New Thirty because that is what our members are telling us," said Dawn Sweeney, President of AARP Services, Inc. "AARP continues to work towards changing stereotypes of aging. Today's 50+ adults lead active, creative and engaging lives. We hope this project will help increase knowledge, promote more positive attitudes, and support informed policy decisions with regard to America's older persons."

Most Americans understand that despite some declines in physical and mental capabilities, older people are healthy enough to enjoy a variety of activities, including meaningful work, sexual relations, and learning.

But even as the media over the past decade have focused increased attention on aging in our society, many Americans still hold misconceptions about the aging process and the perceived problems facing older people.

res of Aging, conducted for AARP by researchers at the University of Southern California, summarizes the findings of a survey that sought to better understand Americans' knowledge, perceptions, and attitudes about aging and older people. The survey finds Americans' knowledge of aging generally good and attitudes towards older persons is positive, but negative misconceptions persist. The survey also compares findings from a similar AARP study using an almost identical questionnaire that was conducted in 1994.

The survey included a "Facts on Aging Quiz," a series of 25 true/false statements related to various physical, economic, and social characteristics of aging and older people. The typical survey respondent answered about half of the statements correctly which suggests a reasonably good level of knowledge about aging although lower scores were recorded among those with lower education levels and the least exposure to older adults. The results from the 2004 survey were similar to results from the 1994 survey suggesting that in the last ten years there have been few changes in the public's knowledge about aging.

The study found that nine out of ten Americans know that older persons can continue to learn, and four out of five know that older persons are healthy. Majorities also know that older workers are as effective as younger workers and they can adapt to change.

But some negative stereotypes are still prevalent, with one third of Americans feeling that older persons have no capacity for sex, are pretty much alike, and consider themselves bored or miserable. More than one in four feel that the majority of older people are senile.

Younger persons tend to perceive the older have more problems than older see themselves experiencing. For instance, 62% of Americans aged 18 to 64 believe that most people over 65 have a serious problem with not having enough money to live on. However, among people 65 and older, only 45% thought that was the case and only 21% of those 65 and older reported actually experiencing a problem with having enough money to live on themselves. Similarly, 49% of Americans believe older persons have a fear of crime, but only 19% of those 65 and older believe this to be a serious problem, a percentage that has decreased over the last ten years.

"The study's findings point to the fact that there is room for politicians, journalists, educators, medical researchers, and people in many other roles to help Americans learn more and reduce their anxiety about older persons and the aging process," said Alexis Abramson of USC and one of the study's two principal researchers. One of the major relationships uncovered in the study was that the more a respondent knew about aging in general, the less anxiety they were likely to have about their own aging.

Many of these misconceptions are more common among those who have not yet reached middle age, the study found. Americans under age 35, for example, are more likely than middle-aged and older Americans to think that the majority of older people are lonely, miserable, senile or suffering from defective memory.

The 2004 survey is based on 1,202 telephone interviews with random samples of U.S. adults and an over-sampling of 314 African Americans and 318 Hispanics. The link to the study is www.aarp.org/research/reference/publicopinions/aresearch-import-926.html.

AARP
AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization dedicated to making life better for people 50 and over. We provide information and resources; engage in legislative, regulatory and legal advocacy; assist members in serving their communities; and offer a wide range of unique benefits, special products, and services for our members. These include AARP The Magazine, published bimonthly; AARP Bulletin, our monthly newspaper; AARP Segunda Juventud, our quarterly publication for Hispanic members; NRTA Live and Learn for National Retired Teachers Association members; and our Web site, www.aarp.org. We have staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

AARP Services, Inc.
AARP Services, Inc. (ASI), founded in 1999, is a wholly owned subsidiary of AARP. ASI manages the wide range of products and services that are offered as benefits to AARP's 35 million members. The offers span health and financial products, travel and leisure products, and life event services. Specific products include Medicare supplemental insurance; automobile and homeowners insurance; member discounts on rental cars, cruises, vacation packages and lodging; special offers on technology and gifts; life insurance; a credit card; pharmacy services; alternative health services; legal services; and long-term care insurance. ASI's responsibilities include developing new products, managing products and services, marketing, creating and maintaining partnership and sponsorship relationships, and developing and managing AARP's award-winning Web site, AARP.org.

University of Southern California Andrus Gerontology Center
The quality of life available to older persons and their evolving role in society are critical concerns. Through the efforts of the faculty, staff, and Board of Councilors, the Andrus Gerontology Center is committed to promoting successful aging and an older population that is healthy, active and involved in the life of the community and nation. Erected as a tribute to Ethel Percy Andrus, the Andrus Gerontology Center is committed to understanding aging and preparing professionals to work in an aging society. www.usc.edu/dept/gero

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