Stereotypes About Aging

Lindsey Locker

HDFS 312: Adult Development- Middle Age and Aging


A lot of stereotypes surround those in late adulthood.  Whether that be grumpiness or decrease in sex drive, aging does not sound all that appealing.  However, a lot of these stereotypes derive from causes other than aging.  This paper will examine the truth behind whether or not religion is prominent in older adults, and whether or not the author agrees with that stereotype.

Summaries of the Studies

Bengtson, Harris, Pytney, & Silverstein argue that older adults do in fact possess more spirituality in opposition to their counterparts in adolescence or emerging adulthood.  Whether this is because of hardships, such as recessions, wars, and cultural changes that affected this cohort in a much stronger degree, or health decline, spirituality seems to be desired among this cohort.  The purpose of the longitudinal study, was to examine patterns in age and generation in religion with 35 years of survey data from 420 families and interviews with 25 families.  The independent variable is age while the dependent variable is spirituality and religious beliefs.  The conclusion reveals religious development throughout life, cohort influences, and effects of generational trends in religion effect religiosity in later life.  Results also show a fluctuation in religious beliefs in older generations in retirement.

A study done by Crockett & Voas examined cohort and period effects on church attendance in age.  Their hypothesis is that population-level religious decline occurs if one or more birth cohort grows to be a less religious adult or if there is a religious decline in general across an impactful period, such as the one of the World Wars.  If their hypothesis is not correct, there would be a religious decline in those who are aging.  There was a survey taken among British church attendees examining the number of attendants at church and their ages, and and interviews were conducted among those of various age ranges asking to define spirituality in this correlational study.  The independent variable is age while the dependent variable is church attendance.  This study found that the average number of church attendees does in fact fall within each generation, with a decline in church attendance in early cohorts.  In terms of population-level, adults are less effected by religiosity around them despite it’s increase or decrease.  Younger cohorts, however, are much more heavily influenced on what is around them. Birth cohort, however, is much more influential on religion.  Depending on the generation one was born in, this study shows that religiosity is purely generational.  So ultimately, religion is more generational rather than age related (2006).

In contrast to the other studies, this study, conducted by Hasan, Heller, Pergakis, & Waldinger, (2010) studied personality with octogenarian rather than church attendance in order to examine spirituality in older adults. They examined a possible correlation between spirituality and personality traits such as agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, openness, and neuroticism, character traits from the five traits model in this correlational study.  Overall, they are questioning if spirituality is solely based on life experience and personality. adolescent Conscientiousness was correlated with religiousness in late adulthood.  Those that scored high in extraversion, openness, and consciousness, are much more likely to find themselves searching for religion in later life.  They found that rather than age, environment predicts a much higher likelihood of well-being in later life. 

A study conducted by Doan, Nguyen, Tran, & Vu also examined a connection between the well-being of the elderly and religious background in this correlational study.  This method involved extensive phone calls over the course of a week discussing matters of well being and spirituality.  The independent variable in this study is religiosity while the dependent variable is well-being. In conclusion, a large number of participants who showed signs of spirituality showed higher levels of happiness, which can be adopted as a coping mechanism through religion.  Not only did this study confirm a link between well being and religiosity, but a staggering number of other studies confirmed a positive relationship between religion and well being (2016).

Spirituality With Age- What Do They Think?

Through examining all four of these studies, a pattern of religiosity in elder cohorts became prevalent.  Their is much more of a desire to turn towards religion in older generations, for reasons of a desire of a more positive well-being or having a feeling that life needs to have more certainty before death.  A lot of them in fact turn to religion because of a need for a coping mechanism (Doan et. al, 2016).    Another explanation for increased church attendance is a strong desire for a sense of belonging, which would indicate a belonging to a religious group without any spiritual beliefs (Crockett & Voas, 2016).  In addition, an adult mind has a greater capacity to think outside the realms of this world into what is much more spiritual in comparison to children.  This generation also grew up in an environment where religiosity was all their parents knew, it was what everyone around them was doing.  Church attendance was required and believing in a higher power was the norm amongst American families.  Though this generation has a sharper increase in religiosity, I believe that this is strictly generational rather than anything to do with age.  

Children in this era are much more exposed to secularity and would much rather turn to something besides religion for freedom, which makes me wonder if this generation will grow up without much of a desire to grow religiously (Bengston et. al, 2015).   Children are much more affected by social change than their older cohorts (Crockett and Voas, 2006).  If their fellow cohorts fail to want a life of spirituality, they will do the same.  Children are also much more effected by the environment they grow up in, which sets them up for a life of spirituality (Hasan et. al, 2010).  When growing up in a home with parents who embrace their spirituality, it is highly likely that their children will follow them and do the same.  Despite negative events that may occur in their lifetime, they will still want to turn to spirituality.  Church attendance in childhood or adolescence predicted an increase in religiosity increased church attendance earlier in adulthood predicted better subjective ratings of well-being in late life (Hasan, 2010).  Children are much more likely to adhere to what is around them in comparison to searching for spirituality within themselves, as developmentally they are unable to think so abstractly at such a young age. 

Religion Among Younger Adults

Another commonality in these studies was a sharp decline in religiosity within those in emerging adulthood.  Living in a community of cohorts in emerging adulthood who are completely dependent of the beliefs of the majority of people around them, I would say there is an exception to this stereotype.  I grew up in a Christian home, though religion was not forced among me.  My parents are not the kind of people who attend church weekly or dive deep into their spirituality, however, I am the exact opposite of them.  I attend church regularly because I believe their is a power higher than the one above myself that is much greater than I am.  I live in a community where many emerging adults have similar feelings.  Not due to a desire for religious acceptance, but due to an independent desire to explore what we truly live for.  

As a Young Life leader, I am also exposed to adolescents who have a great desire to explore their spirituality in a way that is much more in depth than their older cohorts.  Whether they came from a home with positive parental guidance or a home with numerous risk factors, they all have come to an agreement on their spirituality.  Through the witness of myself and those around me, there is a possibility to explore religion at a young age.  Older cohorts may be more religious due to their increasing knowledge of their religion, but the religious ‘spike’ with age seems faulty. 

In order to oppose their cohorts and upbringing when it comes to religion, a lot of openness is required when looking at religion.  When an adolescent or emerging adult experiences an openness to spirituality, they are much more likely to embrace it.  It is also important that adolescents or emerging adults are resilient so they are able to much more quickly bounce back to something like religion.


Though those in elder generations show more signs of religiosity than their younger cohorts, it may not be because of a true, raw desire for religiosity.  It is possible that young adults may have much more religiosity, and not because of a desire to fit in.  It makes sense, however, that these older adults attend church because that is all they grew up knowing.  So rather than it being a longing of their own, it is more of a longing of those around them.


Bengtson, V. L., Silverstein, M., Putney, N. M., & Harris, S. C. (2015). Does Religiousness Increase with Age? Age Changes and Generational Differences Over 35 Years. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 54(2), 363-379. doi:10.1111/jssr.12183

Crockett, A., & Voas, D. (2006). Generations of Decline: Religious Change in 20th-Century Britain. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 45(4), 567-584. doi:10.1111/j. 1468-5906.2006.00328.x

Pergakis, M. B., Hasan, N. S., Heller, N. R., & Waldinger, R. J. (2010). Octogenarian Reports of Lifetime Spiritual Experiences: Types of Experience and Early Life Predictors. Journal of Religion, Spirituality & Aging, 22(3), 220-238. doi:10.1080/15528031003698004

Tran, T. Q., Nguyen, T. Q., Vu, H. V., & Doan, T. T. (2016). Religiosity and Subjective Well- Being Among Old People: Evidence from a Transitional Country. Applied Research in Quality of Life. doi:10.1007/s11482-016-9500-9


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