Representation of Age #1

* Bold red = common stereotypes


Stereotypical Characteristics


Immature, stupid, greedy, lazy, selfish, unfit, obese, violent, callous (insensitive/disregard others feelings), gullible (easily deceived), unreliable, careless, self-entitled (mooches off their parent’s money), never going to achieve anything


Grumpy, old-fashion, slow, weak, whining, unable to use technology, unhealthy, miserly (reluctant to spend) , hard-of-hearing, ugly, never go anywhere

Media representations of different groups of people based on age (i.e. children, adolescents and the elderly), also generalise and categorise people on the basis of stereotypes.


British children are often depicted in the British media in positive ways. Content
analyses of media products suggest that eight stereotypes of children are
frequently used by the media.

  • As victims of horrendous crimes – some critics of the media have suggested that White children who are victims of crime get more media attention than adults or children from ethnic minority backgrounds.
  • As cute – this is a common stereotype found in television commercials for baby products or toilet rolls.
  • As little devils – another common stereotype especially found in drama and comedy, e.g. Bart Simpson.
  • As brilliant – perhaps as child prodigies or as heroes for saving the life of an adult.
  • As brave little angels – suffering from a long-term terminal disease or disability.
  • As accessories – stories about celebrities such as Madonna, Angelina Jolie or the Beckhams may focus on how their children humanise them.
  • As modern – the media may focus on how children ‘these days’ know so much more ‘at their age’ than previous generations of children.
  • As active consumers – television commercials portray children as having a consumer appetite for toys and games. Some family sociologists note that this has led to the emergence of a new family pressure, ‘pester power’, the power of children to train or manipulate their parents to spend money on consumer goods that will increase the children’s status in the eyes of their peers.


There are generally 2 broad ways in which young people have been
targeted and portrayed by the media in Britain.

  • Youth are often portrayed by news media as a social problem, as immoral or anti-authority and consequently constructed as folk devils as part of a moral panic. The majority of moral panics since the 1950s have been manufactured around concerns about young people’s behaviour, such as their membership of specific ‘deviant’ sub-cultures (e.g., teddy boys, hoodies) or because their behaviour (e.g., drug taking or binge drinking) has attracted the disapproval of those in authority.
  • Wayne et al. (2008) conducted a content analysis of 2130 news items across all the main television channels during May 2006. They found that young people were mainly represented as a violent threat to society. They found that it was very rare for news items to feature a young person’s perspective or opinion. They note that the media only delivers a one-dimensional picture of youth, one that encourages fear and condemnation rather than understanding. Moreover, they argue that it distracts from the real problems that young people face in the modern world such as homelessness, not being able to get onto the housing ladder, unemployment or mental health and that these might be caused by society’s, or the government’s, failure to take the problems of youth seriously.

The elderly

Research focusing on media representations of the elderly suggests that age is not the only factor that impacts on the way the media portrays people aged 65 and over. 

  • Newman (2006) notes that upper class and middle class elderly people are often portrayed in television and film dramas as occupying high-status roles as world leaders, judges, politicians, experts and business executives. Moreover, news programmes seem to work on the assumption that an older male with grey in his hair and lines on his face somehow exudes the necessary authority to impart the news.

Sociological studies show that when the elderly do appear in the media, they tend to be portrayed in the following one-dimensional ways.

  • As grumpy – conservative, stubborn and resistant to social change.
  • As mentally challenged – suffering from declining mental functions.
  • As dependent – helpless and dependent on other younger members of the family or society.
  • As a burden – as an economic burden on society (in terms of the costs of pensions and health care to the younger generation) and/or as a physical and social burden on younger members of their families (who have to worry about or care for them).
  • As enjoying a 2nd childhood – as reliving their adolescence and engaging in activities that they have always longed to do before they die.



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