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Images of Aging in America 2004

The facts and fallacies of growing old are scrutinized in this AARP/University of Southern California study of how much adult Americans know--or think they know--about aging. While the people surveyed are moderately knowledgeable, the study found that many still have misconceptions about aging and older people.

To measure peoples' attitudes and understanding, interviews included questions about factual aspects of aging. Typical respondents answered approximately half of the 25 questions correctly, demonstrating a knowledge level that has remained essentially unchanged since 1994 when a similar AARP survey was conducted using an almost identical questionnaire.

Among the study's findings:

  • Despite significant demographic shifts in America (such as the aging of boomers and Hispanic population increases) and extensive media attention to aging issues like funding of Social Security and prescription drug coverage, the measures used in this study are remarkably stable from 1994 to 2004.
  • Americans with lower socio-economic status and/or experiencing serious problems express the most anxiety about aging, which may indicate the negative impact that the lack of economic security may have on quality of life and overall life development as people age.
  • The relationships between knowledge of aging, problems experienced in life, and anxiety about the aging process underscore the need for careful, sensitive treatment of news, medical research findings, and policies dealing with older people.
  • The study also found "strikingly little evidence of intergenerational conflict," which is similar to the findings of the 1994 study.

For the 2004 survey, 1,202 telephone interviews were conducted with random samples of U.S. adults and an over-sampling of 314 African Americans and 318 Hispanics. The report was prepared by Alexis Abramson and Dr. Merril Silverstein, both of the University of Southern California. For further information, please contact Dr. Albert R. Hollenbeck at 202-434-6280.