Why are they always grumpy? By Laura Boog

There are many stereotypes about aging in American culture. Many of these stereotypes put older adults in a bad light most of the time. Stereotypes like their lack of willingness to try new things, being forgetful, or how adults become grumpier as they get older, make aging more of a negative process than it is positive. One of the biggest stereotypes in American culture is that adults become grumpier as they age. But many older adults do not fit that certain stereotype, in fact, according to an article on Medical Daily; Dana Dovey (2015) states there is a general increase in happiness as individuals age which leads to an increase in well being. There has been numerous research done on aging and how aging effects emotions in later adulthood.

In a study done by Kunzmann, Rohr, Wieck, Kappes, and Wrosch they examined age differences in two negative emotions: anger and sadness (2016). Anger and sadness was assessed through verbal expression, facial behavior, and physiological arousal (Kunzmann et al., 2016). In the study there was a sample of 82 younger adults and 80 older adults (Kunzmann et al., 2016). The younger adults average age was 26 years old, while the older adults average age was 70 years old (Kunzmann et al., 2016). The participants had to relive a personal experience that made them feel anger or sadness by thinking about this certain memory aloud (Kunzmann et al., 2016). As the participants thought aloud about the experience they were being assessed on their subjective feeling verbal expressions, facial behaviors, and physiological arousal (Kunzmann et al., 2016).  The results showed that the older adults reacted with less anger than the younger adults did. The results didn’t show as much of an age difference in sadness as they did with anger, meaning that the adults weren’t any more sad than the younger adults (Kunzmann et al., 2016).

This study contradicts the stereotype that all older adults are grumpier and angrier as they age (Kunzmann et al., 2016). According to the study the younger adults showed more signs of anger than the older adults did, meaning that older adults can’t be any more grumpy/angry than anyone else (Kunzmann et al., 2016). The study does not support the stereotype that older adults are grumpy (Kunzmann et al., 2016).

In a study done by Etxeberria, Urdaneta, and Yanguas (2015) they examined how older adults use emotional regulation while confronting negative emotions like sadness and anger (Etxeberria et al., 2015). They split the participants into age groups: 65-74, 75-84, 85-94, and 95 and older. In order to test emotional regulation, the older adults had to take a questionnaire after reading something that should have produced feelings of either sadness or anger (Etxeberria et al., 2015). They then were categorized into different types of emotion regulation strategies based on their questionnaires: passive, express, solve and seek (Etxeberria et al., 2015). The results found that the older adults used passive strategies more than they used proactive strategies like expressing and seeking (Etxeberria et al., 2015). This means that the research showed that older adults tend to accept, suppress, and avoid negative emotions like sadness and anger instead of expressing and seeking those emotions (Etxeberria et al., 2015).

Contrary to belief, that older adults are grumpy and like to express their negative emotions more than anyone else, they actually do the opposite according to the research (Etxeberria et al., 2015). Older adults tend to hide any type of negative emotion like anger and sadness instead of expressing them (Etxeberria et al., 2015). Many people believe the stereotype that older adults like to be grumpy and like to express their feelings of anger but according to this study that stereotype is untrue (Etxeberria et al., 2015).

In another study done by Mirucka, Bieleck, and Kisielewska (2016) they researched how older adults’ subjective age and positive orientation are connected. 194 participants, all considered seniors, were assessed using the Positivity Scale, Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, and the Satisfaction with Life Scale (Mirucka et al., 2016). The results showed that most of the participants reported a younger subjective age, which was a strong predictor of positive orientation, satisfaction of life, and self esteem (Mirucka et al., 2016). Subjective age was a greater predictor than actual chronological age with the various variables. So in other terms most of the participants felt younger than their chronological age and that meant they had relatively higher positive orientation, satisfaction of life, and self esteems  (Mirucka et al., 2016).

This study was relevant to the stereotype that older adults are grumpy because it showed that older adults tend to think of themselves as younger which means they have positive self-esteems, and satisfaction of life (Mirucka et al., 2016). I think that when someone has a high satisfaction of life that usually means that they are happy with life. So this along with the other studies does not support the stereotype that older adults are always grumpy (Mirucka et al., 2016).

Jennifer Smith and Fred Bryant (2016) did a study about how savoring life experiences, health, and life satisfaction where connected. In the study, there were 266 participants all over the age of 55; the average age was 73 years old (Bryant & Smith, 2016). In order to measure the ability to savor, health, and life satisfaction participants had to complete several surveys and questionnaires55 (Bryant & Smith, 2016). The results showed that poor health was connected with lower life satisfaction and lower savoring capability. But older adults with higher levels of life satisfaction usually had higher levels of health and savoring capabilities 55 (Bryant & Smith, 2016). So the study found that when the older adults had higher savoring capabilities, meaning they value positive experiences, it would help them with their life satisfaction and health55 (Bryant & Smith, 2016).

The research done by Smith and Bryant presented many different ways in which an older adult is influenced emotionally 55 (Bryant & Smith, 2016). Most people no matter what age would have lower life satisfaction if they were in poor health. It all just really depends on the state in which the person is. That is why the stereotype that the American culture knows so well that all older adults are grumpy can be somewhat true. Many know that as we get older our health declines, which makes our life satisfaction decline a little too according to the study 55 (Bryant & Smith, 2016). So the research that was done somewhat supports the stereotype that all older adults are grumpy.

Like in all human development, every individual is different. Some older adults may be more grumpy or happier than other older adults. It really comes down to that individual person and what they are going or what they have gone through in life. The stereotype that all old people are grumpy is just that, a stereotype. Not all older adults are grumpy, in fact research shows that most older adults are content with their life and are happy. But like in the previous study some older adults may have declining health, which may in turn lead to some negative emotions 55 (Bryant & Smith, 2016).  No not all older adults are grumpy all they time in fact most of them are happy and don’t like to express or feel negative emotions like sadness and anger. So before you go judging an older adult about how grumpy they are, just think how grumpy you would be too if you were going through the same thing.


Bryant, F. B., & Smith, J. L. (2016). The Benefits of Savoring Life: Savoring as a Moderator of the Relationship Between Health and Life Satisfaction in Older Adults. The International Journal of Aging and Human Development,84(1), 3-23. Retrieved February 4, 2016.

Dovey, D.  (2015, March 19). The One Feeling That Gets Better With Old Age. Retrieved February 06, 2017, from http://www.medicaldaily.com/grumpy-old-man-stereotype-lie-trust-increases-age-improves-overall-well-being-326256

Etxeberria, I., Etxebarria, I., Urdaneta, E.,  & Yanguas, J. (2016). Age differences among older adults in the use of emotion regulation strategies. What happens among over 85s and centenarians?, Aging & Mental Health, 20:9, 974-980, DOI: 10.1080/13607863.2015.1050995

Kunzmann, U., Rohr, M., Wieck, C., Kappes, C., & Wrosch, C. (2016, December 15). Speaking About Feelings: Further Evidence for Multidirectional Age Differences in Anger and Sadness. Psychology and Aging. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pag0000142

Miruka, B., Bielecka, U., & Kisielwska, M. (2016). Positive orientation, self-esteem, and satisfaction with life in the context of subjective age in older adults. Personality and Individual Differences,99, 206-210. Retrieved February 5, 2017.


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