Academic journal article Communication Studies

Cultural and Gender Influences on Age Identification

Academic journal article Communication Studies

Cultural and Gender Influences on Age Identification

Article excerpt

In today's increasingly age-conscious society, where children want to be adults, adults want to be children, and those in their twenties and thirties are considered to be in the "prime of their life" in terms of vitality, communication scholars are reporting important age-differentiated outcomes on media preferences, language, and interpersonal interactions (see, for review, McCann & Giles, 2002; Ng, 1998; Nussbaum & Coupland, 1995; Williams et al., 1997). For example, gratifications sought through media use vary across the lifespan (Bleise, 1986; Blumler, 1985; Harwood, 1997, 1999a; Mundorf & Brownell, 1990; Rosengren & Windahl, 1989), while linguistically, such features as syntactical encoding, lexical selection, and discourse planning change as people age (Kemper, 1994; Kemper & Hummert, 1997). Interpersonally, people are highly attentive to age. People "celebrate" significant transition ages (e.g., 30-, 40-, 50-years old) (Logan, Ward, & Spitze, 1992), increasingly receive "aging messages" during our 50s (Karp, 1988), and selectively conceal our age based on our gender and to whom we are speaking (Harris, 1994). People judge others' social/relational roles (e.g., parent, marital status) on the basis of their age (Logan et al., 1992), think highly age-discrepant romantic relationships are unlikely to succeed (Cowan, 1984), and differentially prefer spending time with people of different ages (Harris, Page, & Begay, 1988).

Most age-identity research focuses on older and middle-aged people, examining "active resistance toward aging" (Rose, 1965, p. 8), aging fears (Montepare & Lachman, 1989), age transitions and roles (George, 1990; Marini, 1984), age identities and health (Ward, LaGory, & Sherman, 1988), "ideal" (most desired) age (Barak, Stem, & Gould, 1988; Zola, 1962), and denials of old age (Traphagan, 1998; Ward, 1977). Despite the focus on older and middle-aged people in research, age identity is likely not absent from young adults' sense of self. Communication scholars are therefore calling for research to understand the role age identification plays in young adults' mass, interpersonal, intergenerational, and intercultural communication (Coupland & Nussbaum, 1993; Harwood, 1999a; Harwood & Williams, 1998; Harwood, Giles, & Ryan, 1995).

To date, the following is known: (1) Compared to other young adults, age-identified young adults prefer and view more TV shows featuring young characters (Harwood, 1999a, b); (1) (2) Age-identified young adults communicate less apprehensively (Harwood & Williams, 1998); (3) Young adults' beliefs as to how old they are regarded by others are strongly linked to how dominant, affiliative, confident, and socially potent they view themselves to be (Montepare, 1991); (4) Young adults report satisfying intergenerational conversations when older people neither act nor communicate like other older people; they blame the elderly when judging their intergenerational encounter unsatisfactory, and they suggest the way to improve the conversation is for the elderly to accommodate them more (Williams & Giles, 1996); and (5) Young adults judge elderly people's communication with them in terms of expected affect/ emotions, their own communication poise/anxiety and need to accommodate (speaking more slowly/loudly; being polite, etc.), and the elderly person's complaining and attunement to them (attentiveness, supportiveness, helpful/welcome advice, complimenting) (Harwood & Williams, 1998). As intergenerational communication research continues to develop, it provides intriguing inklings as to the importance of young adults' age identity on their communicative behavior. The research reported here focuses on how and why young adults become age identified as a means of understanding the genesis of these outcomes.

Young Adults' Age Identity: An Intergroup Perspective

Because much of the age-identity research focuses on older and middle-aged adults, an incomplete and not-at-all comprehensive picture exists about young adults' age identity. …

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