This content analysis examined the 60 most popular teen movies from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s to determine how older people (those over 55) are portrayed. This study found that some portrayals of older people in teen movies were favorable. For example, the most positive finding of the current study was the physical portrayal of older characters. The overwhelming majority of older characters were portrayed as active and healthy and rarely portrayed as sick or ugly. The negative physical stereotypes associated with children's media, such as “toothless/missing teeth" and older characters' reliance on physical aids were mostly absent from teen movies. The marginalization of older characters, their lack of significance to the plot, and the use of negative personality traits and stereotypes, however, were notable in the teen movie sample. Older characters were extremely under represented in teen movies; only 7% of characters in teen movies were old despite those over 55 comprising at least 21% of the total U.S. population. Similarly, older characters were marginalized in terms of plot and were likely to be featured only as background characters. Older characters were often portrayed with negative personality traits and in an overall negative manner. Fewer than 50% of older characters were portrayed positively. About a third of older characters were portrayed negatively overall, while 35% of older characters were portrayed as angry. Older characters were often portrayed in a stereotypical manner and a full 20% of older characters only exhibited negative stereotypes. The stereotypes that adolescents today hold toward older people were reflected in older character portrayals in these popular teen films. Given the negative representations of older people that adolescents are exposed to in their teen years, it is no wonder that they express negative attitudes toward older people. After years of exposure to media that negatively depict older adults, adolescents may have been cultivated to stereotype older people. This has the potential to influence the quality of their interactions with older people, and also influence the way they come to view the prospect of getting old.
College and Department
Fine Arts and Communications; Communications
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Magoffin, Dawn Leah, "Stereotyped Seniors: The Portrayal of Older Characters in Teen Movies from 1980-2006" (2007). Theses and Dissertations. 977.
older people, content analysis, teen movies, stereotypes, seniors