Stubbornness and Narrow-Mindedness of Older Adults by Peyton Mysliwiec


When one thinks about older adults, the stereotype of being stubborn and narrow-minded is brought up.  In movies, they are often seen as the older family member who is set in a specific mindset and who is resistant and reluctant to any change.  The older adult figures often argue with the younger characters on ideas and beliefs which is then translated into today’s society and conversations.  The reality is that older adults are not all stubborn and narrow-minded but due to the media and stereotypes, they are often perceived as this way, resulting in a false reality.  The idea that they are also very conservative in their ways brings forth the debate of how anyone over a certain age should not be in the political system and that the newer and younger generation needs to take over for the new and current ideas to take hold.  The rest of this paper is going to evaluate articles that either confirm or dispute the stereotypes of older adults being stubborn or narrow-minded.

Stubbornness has a very stereotypical meaning in the sense that it is pertaining to children being disobedient, defiant or resistant to a specific opinion or action.  The idea of an older adult being stubborn often indicates that they are not willing to do something in a certain way or in the same way that their children or the younger generations do.  I feel as though this stereotype is not accurate or truthful in any way because growing up in a certain time period influences how an individual thinks and how they might complete a task or work.  From my own experience with grandparents and great-grandparents, I have noticed that they were all very hard working and do not mind physical labor to complete a task and I often would find myself telling them that there is some gadget that could help them complete it quicker.  They would always say that they do not need the new technology and I would often find myself becoming upset with them because I thought that they were being extremely stubborn with their decision.

This stereotype of stubbornness of older adults was evaluated by children of older adults (aged 63 to 95) aged 45 to 65 about how they perceived their parent’s stubbornness and how they both felt about certain topics.  This study was performed by Allison R. Heid, Steven H. Zarit and Karen L. Fingerman who are all a part of the Human Development and Family Sciences pathway at different colleges around the United States.  The researchers were measuring how often children of older adults believed that a behavior or action was “stubborn”.  Their main focus was on completing tasks or goals and whether the parent’s way was stubborn or a different approach to solving a problem.  The data came to the conclusion that the parents do not view their children as stubborn, but the children highly view their parents as stubborn.  It was noted that children lacked a stress coping mechanism that interfered with how they dealt with their parents, leading to the idea that their parents are just stubborn.  The children believed that the older adults were resistant to advice or assistance, which made them stubborn (Heid, Zarit and Fingerman, 2015).

The research from the previous paragraph indicates that there is a sense of stubbornness based on how one was raised and in which time period they grew up.  Brent Donnellan and Richard Lucas studied how the age differences of groups affect their personality traits and how they act.  Their study indicated that education had some factors on how the different age groups acted and problem-solved.  Those that had higher levels of education tended to problem-solve in the same ways and with a lot of reason and logic, while those that did not have higher levels of education tended to think differently.  Those with less education were normally the laborers who were set on doing certain things at their own pace and in their own way (Donnellan & Lucas, 2009).  This explains why my great-grandmother was so set on doing simple tasks with as much physical activity as possible.  She would rather take longer to complete something, but not need to rely on the newer technology that I did which helped me accomplish something.  I feel as though most individuals do not think about the age differences which is what influences the stereotype of older adults being stubborn or narrow-minded.

Another study found that there are more negative stereotypes and views towards older adults.  The data indicated that many young adults view older adults as being inflexible and helpless.  This stereotype goes hand in hand with the idea that older adults are stubborn and do not like to change to the newer ideas that are coming up in the newer centuries.  Due to the fact that younger individuals believe that older adults are inflexible indicates that they do not understand why they do want to change their ways or why they do not see something in the same way that they do.  The stereotypes that were evaluated were also more negative and descriptive about the older adults than they were about the younger adults (Chasteen, Schwarz, and Park, 2002).  The researchers indicated that that there is an age bias and that younger adults view older adults as the typical old person from movies like Up and Gran Torino.  These stereotypes do not allow older adults to break this stigma and constantly places them back into it.

Research has shown how stereotypes like stubbornness and narrow-mindedness influence several behavioral outcomes later in life.  This reasoning could be why there is the constant image of stubborn older adults in popular culture today.  Brad Meisner collected a list of common stereotypes targeted towards older adults and how these stereotypes affect older adults later in their lives and how they view the stereotypes towards themselves.  It was concluded that positive and negative age stereotypes have an impact on older adults’ health and their ageing processes.  The fact that stereotypes can have an effect on their health and the way in which they age should be an indication that it is time to kill the negative stereotypes.  The belief that they are stubborn has a negative influence on how they look at themselves and how they interact with their younger family members (Meisner, 2011).

The four articles that showed how negative stereotypes indicates that this is a problem that needs to be resolved.  It is not fair for individuals to be seen as stubborn based on the way that they were raised and based on the era that they grew up in.  I feel as though I have had this same idea of my grandparents but after research and now understanding why they do certain things the way that they do, I understand that it is an age difference.  Getting old does not mean that one will instantly become stubborn, it means that one grew up and lived in a different era than their younger family members and the younger generations.



Alison L. Chasteen, Norbert Schwarz, Denise C. Park       (2012). The activation of aging stereotypes in younger and older adults. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci 2002; 57 (6): P540-P547. doi: 10.1093/geronb/57.6.P540

Allison R. Heid, Steven H. Zarit, Karen L. Fingerman (2015). “My parent is so stubborn!”—perceptions of aging parents’ persistence, insistence, and resistance. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci 2015; 71 (4): 602-612. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbu177

Brad A. Meisner (2011). A meta-analysis of positive and negative age stereotype priming effects on behavior among older adults. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci 2011; 67B (1): 13-17. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbr062

Donnellan, M. B., & Lucas, R. E. (2008). Age differences in the big five across the life span: evidence from two national samples. Psychology and Aging, 23(3), 558–566.







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