Television ads depicting aging
baby boomers as "greedy geezers" and news stories calling
older audiences "a bad omen for advertising revenues" pose
serious risks for the elderly and may even shorten lifespan, a panel
of experts on aging testified Wednesday.
The panelists, appearing before the Senate Special Committee on
Aging, castigated media and marketing executives for bombarding
audiences with what they said are negative images of aging in print,
on television and on the big screen. What's worse, they said, is
most people internalize these images without realizing how damaging
they can be on an older person's finances, relationships and
physical and mental health.
"Extolling youthfulness while demeaning the old helps to
generate images that, as our research suggests, may have devastating
consequences," Becca R. Levy, an epidemiologist at Yale
University, told committee Chairman Sen. John B. Breaux (D-La.) and
other senators at the hearing.
Levy presented the findings of a 20-year study published last month
in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that found that
older people with positive perceptions of aging lived 7 1/2 years
longer than those exposed to negative images of aging. Researchers
interviewed 660 people over the course of the study, tracking
longevity and how participants' self-images were affected as they
Levy acknowledged that media and marketing are not solely to blame
for promoting ageism. But Levy and the other panelists agreed that
the two industries are the most pervasive, systematic and
identifiable sources of images that are detrimental to older
The warnings come as 77 million baby boomers--those born in the 18
years after World War II--reach retirement age. With birthrates on
the decline and life expectancy increasing, this population is
poised to become the largest group of consumers, especially in the
Panelist Robert Snyder, a senior partner at Mature Market Group, a
Dallas research and marketing firm, stressed the importance of
catering to the longevity needs of older consumers who hold
substantial purchasing power.
Television commercials shown at Wednesday's hearing, however,
depicted older Americans in sometimes deplorable ways. One
commercial, for example, showed an older woman exposing herself
after an auto parts employee tells her the shop offers a lifetime
guarantee on certain auto parts.
Breaux expressed dismay at seemingly contradictory marketing
strategies that target younger consumers while neglecting older
Americans who compose a major segment of the market. "The media
and marketing industries ignore the purchasing power and preferences
of millions of baby boomers and seniors across the country--a
population that controls three-fourths of the nation's wealth."
The hearing took on a sympathetic tone when Emmy-winning actress
Doris Roberts, 71, who stars as the sharp-tongued, nosy mother in
the television series "Everybody Loves Raymond," told the
committee she thought society considered her opinions
"My peers and I are portrayed as dependent, helpless,
unproductive and demanding rather than deserving," she said.
"This is not just a sad situation.... This is a crime."