Images of the Elderly
We have seen how attitudes toward the status poor exist seemingly independently of the conditions one might think would influence them. These negative images serve both as cause and effect: cause of actions toward the poor and the effect of actions toward them. One might call it "reciprocal hatred." We hate because we act; we act because we hate.
It is the purpose of this chapter to explore the attitudes and image of the elders within American society. 1 Similar findings for the status poor emerge: negativism and misperception, sustained in part by the victims themselves.
The status poor have not always been hated. They were, for much of Western civilization, venerated. Ideas like Pauperum Christi (the Poor of Christ) expressed the idea that the wealthy were the problem (and as likely to get into the Kingdom of Heaven as through the eye of a needle). About the time of the Reformation, one change that is not often mentioned was the change of the status of the poor. Poverty became inverted. Poverty had been exalted; now it was an occasion of sin. A similar shift, though much more recent, has affected the elderly. They too have experienced status inversion; they too have moved from being loved to hated.
Achenbaum ( 1978), in his hallmark historical study, found both divergencies and uniformities in views toward the elderly. Overall, he found the emer