Obituary pics in newspapers indicate rising bias against ageing faces

May 14th, 2009 - 5:52 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, May 14 (ANI): A study on obituary photographs published in one metropolitan newspaper suggests that Americans may have become more biased against ageing faces, particularly of women.

The research hers behind the study revealed that the number of obituary photographs showing the deceased at a much younger age than when he or she died more than doubled between 1967 and 1997.

They also observed that women were more than twice as likely as men to have an obituary photo from when they were much younger.

While about 17 percent of the obituary photographs surveyed in the The Plain Dealer were “age-inappropriate” in 1967, the number had increased to 36 percent by 1997.

“Obituaries and their photographs are one reflection of our society at a particular moment in time. In this case, we can get hints about our views on aging and appearance from the photographs chosen for obituaries. Our findings suggest that we were less accepting of aging in the 1990s than we were back in the 60s,” said Keith Anderson, co-author of the study and assistant professor of social work at Ohio State University.

Working with graduate student Jina Han, Anderson looked at obituary photos in The Plain Dealer - which has the largest circulation of any newspaper in Ohio — in 1967, 1977, 1987, and 1997.

The researchers didn’t examine more recent photos because the newspaper changed the format of its obituary pages, making it impossible to make accurate comparisons after 1997.

Beginning in February of each of those four years, Anderson printed copies of the first 100 obituaries of local residents that had photos, for a total of 400 obituaries in the study.

He separated the text and photos before continuing the analysis.

“Adult children are thinking they want a picture of Dad when he was at his best - and, especially in the late 1990s, that was significantly younger than we he died. And the discrepancy was even larger for women,” Anderson said.

He estimated the ages of the people in the photographs, and compared his estimates to their age at death as listed in the obituary.

If the deceased were more than 15 years older than the estimated age in the photograph, the photos were labelled as “age-inaccurate”.

The study showed that age-inaccurate photos increased steadily each decade: from 17 percent (1967) to 27 percent (1977) to 30 percent (1987) and finally to 36 percent (1997).

The researchers found that each additional year in age at time of death increased the odds of having an age-inaccurate obituary photo, and that women were more than twice as likely as men to have an obituary photograph that was age-inaccurate.

“Aging is a double whammy for women, who get hit with more ageism and sexism,” Anderson said.

The study has been published in Omega-Journal of Death and Dying. (ANI)

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