Attitudes toward Personal Aging and Older Adults in Adult Education Courses

By Robson-Funk, Bridget; Yopp, Martha C. et al. | Journal of Adult Education, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

Attitudes toward Personal Aging and Older Adults in Adult Education Courses


Robson-Funk, Bridget, Yopp, Martha C., McMurtry, Jerry C., Phillips-Miller, Dianne, Young, Margaret H., Journal of Adult Education


Using several Likert-type scales and a series of semantic differentials, students (N=107) enrolled in graduate-level adult education classes were surveyed concerning attitudes toward personal aging and older adults. While subjects' attitudes toward older adults were positive, attitudes did not remain as positive as age of referents increased. Additionally, gender bias toward women ages 60 to 79 was apparent in this study. Outcomes indicated that more extensive education about aging adults, the aging self, and the differences and similarities between aging experiences of men and women is needed within the field of adult education. Four composite variables (locus of control, zest, self-confidence, and anxiety) were identified as key constructs that could be used as guides in educational program design, teaching strategies and program content.

As the 21st century approaches, American society stands on the threshold of a demographic revolution. In the year 2000 there will be about 59 million adults in the 55 and older age bracket in America (MorBarak and Tynan, 1993). As the century moves forward, this age bracket will continue to absorb the remaining 60 million baby boomers who were born between 1946 and 1964 (Treas, 1995). It is projected that by the year 2030, one in five Americans will be age 65 or older (Administration on Aging, 1997).

Redistribution of the population into older and much older age groups will result in complex consequences for American society. A continuum of conditions will be affected, ranging from the political and economic to daily routines carried out by older Americans and their families. While the entire scope of demographic change may be unknown, one thing is certainzeit will impact every aspect of people's lives (University of Hawaii, 1993; Harrison, 1991; Cavallaro, 1991). Social institutions such as family, the workplace, federal, state and local governments, education, and healthcare systems will be affected by increasing numbers of older adults. In light of this phenomenon, an important question is raised about how American society will cope with the consequences of mass aging.

At a time when millions of adults are entering older age groups, conditions such as increased longevity, improvements in healthcare, pursuit of lifelong learning, and continued geographic mobility allow Americans to redefine the meaning of "old age." This may have implications for adult educators as older students enter their classrooms.

Four specific research questions were designed to assess attitudes of future adult educators that may influence their work with older adult students: (1) Do male and female students in adult education classrooms differ in their attitudes toward older adults? (2) Is there a difference in attitudes among students based upon the age of older adults? (3) Is there a difference in attitudes among students depending upon sex of older adults? and (4) Is there a relationship between attitudes toward personal aging and attitudes toward older adults?

Method

The study was designed to measure and compare attitudes of male and female students toward two referent groups of older adults ages 40 to 59 (middlescent referents), and ages 60 to 79 (late adulthood referents). Subjects (N=107) were enrolled in graduate-level adult education classes in five locations in the Northwest.

Survey questionnaires designed around a core of research studies, including works from Hawkins (1996), Intrieri, vonEye and Kelly (1995) Sheehy (1995), Lasher and Faulkender (1993), O'Hanlan, Camp and Osofsicy (1993), Katz (1990a and b), Sanders, Montgomery, Pittman and Balkwell (1984), McTavish (1982), Finnerty-Freid (1982), Kafer (1981), and Kafer, Rakowski, Lachman and Hickey (1980), were mailed or handdelivered to adult education instructors. Surveys were then distributed to students in instructors' classrooms.

Part I of the survey, measuring attitudes toward personal aging, used 15 items modified from a section of the Aging Opinion Survey designed by Kafer (1981). …

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