The portrayal of older adults in basal reading textbooks of the 1960s and 1980s

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The portrayal of older adults in basal reading textbooks of the 1960s and 1980s
Almerico, Gina Marjorie, 1955-
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Subjects / Keywords:
Age discrimination ( jstor )
Basal reading ( jstor )
Child psychology ( jstor )
Children ( jstor )
Childrens literature ( jstor )
Hair ( jstor )
Literary characters ( jstor )
Older adults ( jstor )
Stereotypes ( jstor )
Textbooks ( jstor )

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Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
AEQ2527 ( ltuf )
16663972 ( oclc )
0030321970 ( ALEPH )

Full Text







Copyright 1986


Rita Emily Meadows

Dedicated to

Grandma and Uncle Luther,

Minnie Shomo Haydon and Luther Shomo,
who endowed my brothers, my dozens of
cousins, and me with a heritage of love
and altruism that helped instill within
us an appreciation for the beauty of
living by traditional values


This project represents the culmination of efforts,

ideas, and support of numerous individuals who made sundry

contributions toward its completion. These are the people

to whom the author expresses gratitude and appreciation:

To Dr. H. Thompson Fillmer, chairman of her commit-

tee, for (1) initiating an interest in ageism; (2) sharing

materials and making suggestions; and (3) demonstrating

"student-centered" concern and understanding throughout the

entire process;

To other committee members, Dr. Forrest Parkay, Dr.

James Longstreth, Dr. Edward Turner, and Dr. Suzanne Krogh,

for valuable input and availability;

To Dr. Michael Nunnery and Mrs. Mary Crume for edi-

torial recommendations;

To Dr. Edgar Lee, Vice President of Academic Affairs,

John Kautz III, Vice President of Administrative Services,

and Dr. James Ferrell, chairman of the Education Division,

at Southeastern College, for personal and professional

inspiration and encouragement;

To Dr. Wie L. Tjiong, a close friend and insightful

colleague, for meaningful and perceptive interaction;


To Janis Sharpe, a Southeastern College student, for

diligent participation in analyzing and coding almost half

of the basal reading stories in the study;

To Dr. Michael Van Doren, an informed colleague, for

assisting in the acquisition of computer hardware;

To 2nd Lieutenant Jerry Forbes, a patient friend, for

tutoring and assisting in word processing;

To Dr. Kenneth Wireman, a helpful colleague, for

assistance in applying the statistical formulae to the


To Irvin Ziemann, a kind colleague, for helping

proofread the manuscript;

To Camille Steindam, an exceptional student assis-

tant, for committed efforts in typing and proofing; and

To Patti Bevis, Monica Ford, and Marjorie Owens,

unique and special friends, for offering reassurance and

optimism until the mission was accomplished.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS .........................................iv

ABSTRACT.................................................. viii



Statement of Problem......... .................... 5
Significance of the Study.......................7
Theoretical Rationale...........................8
Limitations and Assumptions ....................14
Definition of Terms.............................16
Summary of Chapter One .........................17

TWO REVIEW OF RELATED RESEARCH .....................19

Introduction.... ............................ 19
Stereotyping of the Aged........................20
Characteristics of Ageism...................20
Effects of Ageism.............................24
Fighting Ageism--The Gray Panthers ..........28
Ageism in Children's Books .....................31
Examination of Basal Reading Series............37
Summary of Chapter Two .........................46


Introduction.............. .................... 50
Research Questions .............................50
Primary Questions............................51
Secondary Questions.........................52
Design and Statistical Analysis................54
Development of the Checklist...................55
Validation of the Checklist for Content
Analysis........................................ 56
Reliability of Coding Procedures ...............63
Sources of Data ................................64
Collection and Treatment of Data...............66
Summary of Chapter Three.......................67

FOUR RESULTS OF THE ANALYSIS .......................69

Presentation of Findings ......................70
Demographic Data ...........................71
Literary Depiction..........................79
Personal Characteristics...................85
General Representation.....................94
Summary Comparisons of 1960s and 1980s Readers
by Major Categories ........................97
Summary of Chapter Four .......................99


Summary of the Problem.......................106
Summary and Discussion of Findings........... 107
Demographic Data..........................108
Literary Depiction........................110
Personal Characteristics..................112
General Representation....................112
Recommendations to Writers, Illustrators,
and Publishers..........................116
Recommendations to Teachers ...............117
Recommendations to Researchers ............119
Final Comment ................................121


REFERENCES............................................. 128

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.....................................134


Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Rita Emily Meadows

May 1986

Chairman: Dr. H. Thompson Fillmer

Major Department: Instruction and Curriculum

This study analyzed basal reading textbooks of the

1960s and 1980s to evaluate the way older characters are

presented in the readers. Specifically, the following

primary questions were addressed:

1. How are older characters portrayed in five sets

of representative basal reading textbooks of the


2. How are older characters portrayed in five sets

of representative basal reading textbooks of

the 1980s?

3. Are there any significant statistical differences

between the portrayal of older adults in the

readers of the 1960s and the portrayal of older

adults in the textbooks of the 1980s?


Further, secondary questions comprising twenty-one

separate categories of information were organized into a

checklist to ascertain whether there was evidence of ster-

eotyping and discrimination against older adults in the

readers. (These categories included total number of

characters in stories, total number of elderly characters

in stories, references to elderly, ethnic origin, role in

the story, characterization, occupation, image, mentality,

physical well-being, personality, personal appearance,

dress, posture, general characteristics, activities, genre,

illustrations, overall impression of the aged, marital

status, and household.)

The results of the content analysis revealed that

older adults were not discriminated against in either the

readers of the 1960s or reading textbooks of the 1980s. It

was found that they were underrepresented in relation to

their actual proportion in the population, but no signifi-

cant prejudicial or unfavorable characterizations were


Significant differences in the basal readers of the

two periods were observed as follows: (1) more females and

fewer males were included in the total characters in the

current series than were included in the earlier readers;

(2) a greater number of elderly females and fewer elderly

males also appeared in the newer readers; (3) a greater

number of elderly female references and fewer male


references were noted in the current textbooks; (4) more

blacks and fewer "other groups" such as imaginary charac-

ters were presented in the stories of the 1980s; (5) more

illustrations in the contemporary readers were cartoon-

like, rather than realistic; (6) more information selec-

tions were noted in the current basal readers; and (7)

more wrinkled portrayals were depicted in the 1980s text-




Today, a phenomenon which is changing the face of the

nation is often referred to as the graying of America, or

the aging of America. The country is "undergoing a trans-

formation from a youth-oriented society into a nation in

which middle-age and elderly people set the pace by sheer

force of numbers" (Sanoff, 1984, p. 40). Correspondent

Hugh Downs of ABC News stated recently that the aging of

America is effecting a social revolution and "is a trans-

formation of such magnitude that it has caught us criti-

cally unprepared" (Sendley, 1985, p. A-30).

In 1900 the total population (including Alaska and

Hawaii) numbered 76,303,387 (Bureau of Statistics, 1901),

and older Americans totaled only 3 million. By the year

2000 it is expected that the over 65 age group will reach

32 million, an increase from 4 percent to over 12 percent

of the population (Ulin, 1982). The United States Bureau

of Census (1984) reports that the population of the nation

in 1983 was 233,981,000; the older adults numbered

27,384,000, which represents 11.7 percent of the total

population. The total population has tripled since 1900;

however, the over 65 age group has grown more than seven-

fold, and the "75-plus age group is the fastest growing


segment in the United States" (Butler and Lewis, 1977,

p. 5). "The 85-and-older group is expected to double by

the year 2000" (Sendley, 1985, p. A-30). Conversely, it is

projected that the group under 25 years of age will con-

tinue to decline sharply by 2000, while the 65 years and

over group will continue to increase steadily (United

States Bureau of the Census, 1984). "At the turn of the

century one could expect to live on the average only 47

years; today the figure is 70 for men and 78 for women"

(Skinner and Vaughan, 1983, p. 20).

Reasons for the increase in the number of older

adults include a combination of factors: a tidal wave of

pre-World War I immigration, a dramatic increase in the

birth rate during the latter decades of the 19th and the

early decades of the 20th centuries, and a sharp rise in

life expectancy during the last 50 years (Ulin, 1982);

advances in medicine, increased availability of medical

services, and an improved standard of living (Skinner and

Vaughan, 1983). The percentage of elderly people is

expected to increase further in response to new medical

discoveries, improved health care, and the presently

declining birth rate (Butler and Lewis, 1977). Comfort

(1978) also predicts that advances in medicine by the year

2000 will extend life expectancy of Americans.

One of the concerns associated with the current trend

in the increased number of older persons is the frequent

reporting of subtle and pervasive stereotyping of the aged

that has evolved in our society. Numerous investigators

have identified prejudice and negative attitudes directed

toward older people which have been propagated (perhaps

unintentionally) in literature and other mass media. "In

our culture with its emphasis on youth and speed, old

people are expected to play a decreasingly active role in

our social and industrial life. These cultural expecta-

tions encourage the formation of misconceptions and stereo-

types about old age" (Tuckman and Lorge, 1953, p. 249).

Nuessel (1982) states: "The language used to depict the

elderly is overwhelmingly negative in its scope" (p. 273).

In the general population negative attitudes toward the

aged are common (Jantz, Seefeldt, Galper, and Serlock,

1977). Stereotyping of the elderly creates negative atti-

tudes toward both the aged and the process of aging; wide-

spread prejudice has been verified (Fillmer, 1984).

McTavish (1971) reviewed the literature to determine the

orientations (perceptions, attitudes, views) others,

including the elderly, have toward old people in social

contexts. He reported that most investigators remarked on

the prevalence of erroneous and negative impressions about

the elderly. "Study and observations spanning several

decades have led social scientists and practitioners to

conclude that . .a social problem of great magnitude

has evolved: the creation of a significant minority of

disadvantaged elderly persons" (Wass, Fillmer, and Ward,

1981, p. 355.) Ansello (1977) laments, "The cumulative

stereotype of age to emerge: noncreative and boring" (p.


Alexander Comfort (1978) synthesized the character-

istics he believes American society ascribes to the elder-

ly person. He conceptualized this profile in the follow-

ing parody:

He or she is a white-haired, inactive, unemployed
person, making no demands on anyone, least of all the
family, docile in putting up with loneliness, rip-
offs of every kind and boredoms, and able to live on
a pittance. He or she, although not demented, which
would be a nuisance to other people, is slightly de-
ficient in intellect and tiresome to talk to, because
folklore says that old people are weak in the head,
asexual, because old people are incapable of sexual
activity, and it is unseemly if they are not. He
or she is unemployable, because old age is second
childhood and everyone knows that the old make a mess
of simple work. Some credit points can be gained by
visiting or by being nice to a few of these subhuman
individuals, but most of them prefer their own com-
pany and the company of other aged unfortunates.
Their main occupations are religion, grumbling, remi-
niscing and attending the funerals of friends. If
sick, they need not, and should not, be actively
treated, and are best stored in unsupervised insti-
tutions run by racketeers who fleece them and hasten
their demise. A few, who are amusing or active, are
kept by society as pets. The rest are displaying un-
pardonable bad manners by continuing to live, and
even on occasion by complaining of their treatment,
when society has declared them unpeople and their
patriotic duty is to lie down and die. (pp. 23, 24)

"Old age has been so negatively stereotyped that it has be-

come something to dread and feel threatened by" (Bragger,

1976, p. 4). "As many people have pointed out, everyone

wants to live a long time, but no one wants to be old--or

think about being old" (Skinner and Vaughan, 1983, p. 21).


Statement of Problem

Stereotypes reflect injustices in a society and be-

come deeply ingrained in the fabric of a culture. It is

charged that negative attitudes toward specific groups in

American society are often displayed. During the civil

rights struggle, awareness of stereotypes in the form of

racism unfolded. After these offenses surfaced, the wo-

men's movement sponsored efforts toward illuminating injus-

tices directed toward females in the form of sexism. In

addition to racism and sexism, other "anti-human values"

have been scrutinized during the past two decades, includ-

ing ageism, elitism, individualism, materialism, and com-

petitiveness (Council on Interracial Books for Children,

1976). "Awareness of such stereotypes has escalated since

the early 1960s" (Applebee, 1979, p. 451).

In recent years interest in age stereotyping conveyed

through the mass media has mushroomed. Attention has been

given to the way elders are portrayed in newspapers, tele-

vision, magazine advertisements, magazine cartoons, popular

music, and books. Other sources where older people may be

misrepresented are greeting cards, jokes, and various types

of pictorial illustrations.

Some studies indicate that children's literature fre-

quently transmits discriminatory impressions of older peo-

ple; it is believed that children have formed an aversive

disposition toward the elderly and toward aging. Other


writers have concluded that stereotyping of the elderly is

not as prevalent as some researchers claim. Investigations

of the depiction of older people in children's books have

focused on juvenile picture books and easy readers (Ansel-

lo, 1977); picture books, including Caldecott Award win-

ners (Hurst, 1981); books for ages 5 through 12 (Ruther-

ford, 1981); realistic fiction (Blue, 1978); books for

preschool through grade three (Barnum, 1977b); and ele-

mentary basal reading series (Fillmer and Meadows, in

press; Kingston and Drotter, 1981; Ribovich and Deay, 1979;

and Robin, 1975).

Specifically, the purpose of this study is to ana-

lyze the content of basal reading textbooks which are rep-

resentative of readers used in the 1960s and 1980s to see

how the aged are portrayed. Primary questions to be con-

sidered are the following:

1. How are older adults portrayed in five sets of

representative basal reading textbooks of the


2. How are older adults portrayed in five sets of

representative basal reading textbooks of the


3. Are there any significant statistical differences

between the portrayal of older adults in the

readers of the 1960s and the portrayal of older

adults in the textbooks of the 1980s?

Categories which are considered in the analysis comprise

the following: total characters in stories, total elderly

characters, references to elderly, ethnic origin, role in

the story, characterization, occupation, image, mentality,

physical well-being, personality, appearance, dress,

posture, general characteristics (bespectacled, wrinkled,

etc.), activities, genre, illustrations, overall impression

of the aged, marital status, and household situation.

Significance of the Study

"There is a need to educate Americans of all ages

about age and aging" (Madison, 1980, p. 599). After con-

ducting an extensive review of the literature on the por-

trayal of older people, McTavish (1971) concluded that more

research is needed: "Much of the work in this area has on-

ly been suggestive" (pp. 100, 101). "Because it is diffi-

cult to test the assumption that the media are influential

in determining many of the attitudes and stereotypes we de-

velop, including those on aging, researchers usually con-

fine themselves to content analysis" (Ulin, 1982, p. 51).

"Far from being trivial, content analysis of children's

literature is most meaningful" (Ansello, 1977, p. 271).

The data obtained from this study will assist educa-

tors in their understanding of the ways the elderly are

portrayed in current basal readers as compared to basal

series of the past. The results should indicate whether

there has been improvement in the treatment of older

people in contemporary series. The analysis may also

produce some insights for teachers to guide them in dealing

with images portrayed in children's literature, and it

should disclose curricular implications for the elemen-

tary practitioner. "Aging education is already part of the

curriculum and always has been. Students can't read liter-

ature or history without being exposed to models and issues

of aging" (Ulin, 1982, p. 19).

Theoretical Rationale

Albert Bandura, an educational psychologist, pre-

sents a view of the way people learn, which is known as

social learning theory. This perspective emphasizes the

prominent roles played by vicarious, symbolic, and self-

regulatory processes in psychological functioning. He

contends that human thought, affect, and behavior can be

markedly influenced by observation, as well as by direct


In the social learning view, modeling is an impor-

tant process in the attainment of knowledge. New response

patterns can be acquired by direct experience or by obser-

vation; it is believed that most human behavior is learned

observationally through modeling. Models who possess en-

gaging qualities are sought out, while those lacking

pleasing characteristics are generally ignored or rejected.

It is surmised that social learning occurs through casual

or direct observation of behavior as it is performed by

others in everyday situations.

The overall evidence thus reveals that modeling in-
fluences can serve as instructors, inhibitors, dis-
inhibitors, facilitators, stimulus enhancers, and
emotion arousers. . Modeling also plays a prime
role in spreading new ideas and social practices
within a society, or from one society to another.
(Bandura, 1977, p. 50)

Numerous expectations are derived from vicarious ex-

perience, and people are inclined to perform according to

what they have observed. If the behavior they observed was

well received, they are apt to do it; if the response was

negative, they are prone to avoid doing it. Humans tend to

gravitate toward things that are associated with pleasant

experiences, and flee those that have aversive connota-

tions. Therefore, contingent experiences create expecta-

tions, as anticipated consequences are inferred from the

observed outcomes of others, from what one reads or is

told, and from other indicators.

The capacity to use symbols provides humans with a

powerful means of processing and preserving experiences in

representational forms that serve as guides for future

behaviors. It is not uncommon "for individuals to react

emotionally toward things and people cast into stereotypes

without having had any personal contact with them. . .

Words that arouse emotions often function as vehicles for

expectancy learning" (Bandura, 1977, pp. 63, 64). "Eval-

uations of places, persons, or things often originate .from

exposure to modeled attitudes" (Bandura, 1977, p. 65).

These affective influences are perpetrated through inter-

pretation of symbolic representations.

Bandura further explicates that knowledge concerning

oneself and the environment is represented in symbolic

constructions and is frequently extracted from vicarious

experience. Symbolic modeling by verbal or pictorial means

greatly expands the range of verification experiences that

could not be secured otherwise (because of prohibitions or

limitations of time, resources, and ability). Social veri-

fication (through books, for example) can foster beliefs

toward individuals or groups. However, "appearances can be

misleading, especially to young children who lack the ex-

periences necessary to interpret accurately what they see

[or read]" (Bandura, 1977, p. 182). Biased conceptions

and distortions may be formed observationally, and infer-

ences that are deductively valid may be factually errone-

ous. Social learning theory purports that many of the mis-

conceptions that people develop are cultivated through

symbolic modeling of stereotypes.

The self-regulatory process in social learning theory

is based on the idea that there is reciprocal interaction

between personal, behavioral, and environmental determi-

nants. In other words, man is not at the mercy of the

environment. "Behavior partly determines which of the many

potential environmental influences will come into play and


what forms they will take. . The environment is influ-

enceable, as is the behavior it regulates" (Bandura, 1977,

p. 195). The "animal" is capable of regulating the envi-

ronment, rather than being controlled .by the environment.

Social learning theory encompasses both the behaviorist's

concept of environmental control, and the humanist's phi-

losophy of personal control--it is a "bidirectional influ-

ence process" (Bandura, 1977, p. 206).

Social learning theory impacts on.children's litera-

ture in that children internalize information, values, per-

ceptions, and impressions which are communicated through

books. "One of the central tenets of the symbolic inter-

actionist approach to social psychology is that the mental

constructs which go to form what we call the mind intervene

between stimulus and response and influence both" (Seltzer

and Atchley, 1971, p. 226). Attitudes and stereotypes are

two important types of mental constructs, and it is thought

that these constructs are learned early in life through

subtle teaching processes of socialization. Books serve as

vehicles for vicarious experience, transmit societal val-

ues, provide children with role models, and influence the

formation of attitudes and future images (Ansello, 1976b,

Seltzer and Atchley, 1971; Wass et al., 1981; and Weitz-

man, Eifler, Hokada, and Ross, 1972).

"Like any concept, that of old age is learned through

a combination of direct concrete and indirect vicarious

experience" (Ansello, 1977, p. 262). Research conducted

through the Center on Aging determined that less than 22

percent of the children interviewed in a study were able to

identify an older person they knew outside the family unit.

Even though they had no contact with older persons, a large

majority of the children stated that they preferred not to

be with aged individuals, and they characterized older

adults as sick, tired, and ugly (Ansello, 1976b). Since

children frequently have little contact with elderly peo-

ple, they may base many of their ideas about the elderly on

characters in books they read, and their attitudes may re-

flect cultural stereotypes rather than personal experi-

ences (Taylor, 1980). Attitudes and perceptions are trans-

mitted by parents, teachers, and children's textbooks (Wass

et al., 1981). (Other socializing agents include the mass

media.) "With limited direct concrete experience with

older adults, children's vicarious experience with old age

becomes significantly more important in shaping concepts

and attitudes toward growing older" (Ansello, 1976b, pp. 6,

7). "Children do love books, and books are wonderful con-

veyors of information--yet they are only vicarious aids

(Seefeldt, Galper, Serock, and Jantz, 1978, p. 126).

"An issue currently discussed within circles of

children's literature and gerontology is the portrayal of

elderly men and women in literature for children" (Watson,

1981, p. 792). "Children's textbooks represent a kind of


literature that is of special importance because such texts

are required reading for every child and . a high

degree of legitimacy and authority is attributed to them"

(Wass et al., 1981, p. 357). "In the past decade numerous

content analyses of children's literature, picture books,

and elementary textbooks conclude that children's books

present biased and prejudiced images of people" (Hurst,

1981, p. 138). However, Watson (1981) notes that some

researchers discovered that negative stereotypes were not

as common as was expected. Latimer (1976) insists that

messages are "telegraphed" to students through the use of

textbooks and other teaching tools, and concludes that

"children do have the inalienable right to have healthy and

authentic impressions" of people in minority groups and of

people with whom they may have little or no contact (p.

151). Jose and Richardson (1980) observe that people in

every society share expectations (often stereotypes) of how

people behave, think, and relate, which may be a way of

condensing information and reducing identification to a

semantic labeling process. The Council on Interracial

Books for Children emphasizes that it is "crucial that we

eliminate stereotypes from children's books if we hope to

change society. This holds particularly true for the

materials we give children at a time when their images of

what society is and should be are beginning to take shape"

(1976, p. 3).


"Children need the multigenerational perspective old

people can provide. They also need models for treating

people with dignity and respect, no matter what their age.

Books can aid in the development of a mutually rewarding

interaction with old people" (Rudman, 1984, p. 308). This

study investigates the way older adults are portrayed in

basal reading series of the 1960s and in basal reading

textbooks of the 1980s. Twenty-one categories are desig-

nated to provide an in-depth analysis of the way each older

character in the reading stories is depicted. It is expec-

ted that this examination will elucidate areas where there

may be discriminatory problems concerning the aged, and

will help determine if there have been changes in the way

older adults are portrayed in today's basal reading series.

"As a society, we should examine and understand our cultur-

al views of growing older so that we may overcome cultural

barriers to aging and promote a more healthy perspective of

what it means to age in America" (Jose and Richardson,

1980, p. 419).

Limitations and Assumptions

Because it is difficult to measure mental constructs

such as attitudes and stereotypes, a content analysis is

often the means chosen to obtain information about the way

people view particular concepts. In examining the

portrayal of older adults in children's readers, one

assumes that this research method provides an acceptable

method to determine whether or not children's stories

discriminate against older people.

The definitions of ageism, attitudes, and stereo-

types comprise the foundation for analyzing the depiction

of older characters in elementary readers. Various re-

searchers differ in the areas they study when attempting

to identify ways older people may be represented in litera-

ture. Some investigators consider the grooming of older

characters in illustrations, their ethnic origin, and the

kinds of jobs they hold, while other writers seem more con-

cerned with words used to describe the elderly and the kind

of interaction in which they are engaged in the stories

(e.g., leadership, political participation). The catego-

ries identified for this investigation were selected by the

researcher after having perused previous studies. It is

believed that these areas are appropriate for scrutinizing

the way older people are depicted in basal readers and that

the categories are comprehensive enough to provide valid

insights, regarding ageist tendencies in readers, for edu-


There are no standardized instruments available for

determining stereotypical characteristics in literature.

Therefore, each investigator uses some subjectivity in the

process of identifying positive and negative features of


older characters. For example, what constitutes fashion?

What is the difference between an active and a passive ac-

tivity (is fishing active or passive)? Although the re-

searcher tried to be objective in the analyses, the results

of this study cannot be directly compared with the findings

of other studies.

Because children's readers include many animal char-

acters, and these story members convey messages to the

child, it was decided to include animals in counting the

total number of characters and the number of older char-

acters. The results of the study, however, are generalized

to humans.

Definition of Terms

Ageism. The prejudices and stereotypes that are

applied to older people, based solely on their age (Butler

and Lewis, 1977).

Aging. "A continuous process of growth throughout

life" (Clearwater, quoting Maggie Kuhn, 1982, p. i).

Attitudes. "Predispositions to respond toward a

person or thing in either a positive or a negative way"

(Seltzer and Atchley, 1971, p. 226).

Character. Person or animal included in the text

and/or illustrations in a basal reader selection.

Distortions. "The use of myth or outright falsehoods

to depict old age as an either idyllic or moribund stage of

life" (Council on Interracial Books for Children, 1976,

p. 19).

Older adults. Persons 65 years of age, or older;

also referred to as the aged, older people, older individu-

als, and the elderly.

Omissions. "The exclusion or avoidance of older

people, of their life concerns and of the positive aspects

of aging" (Council on Interracial Books for Children, 1976,

p. 19).

Stereotype. A standardized mental picture that is

held in common by members of a group and that represents an

oversimplified opinion or judgment (Anderson and Fialkoff,


Summary of Chapter One

An important trend in American society can be ob-

served in the increasing number of older people comprising

the total population. Numerous writers have expressed con-

cern over the way the elderly are depicted in various forms

of mass media. Discriminatory depictions of the elderly

causes them to develop negative self-concepts, and young

people who assimilate fallacious impressions of the aged

dread aging and become victims of their own prejudice.

Because books are socializing agents and provide vicarious

learning experiences for children, it is important to

examine story content to determine if there is evidence of


ageism in children's literature. This study analyzes basal

readers of the 1960s and basal reading textbooks of the

1980s to ascertain how older adults are portrayed, and to

see if there have been changes in the depiction of older

people in current reading series.



Since the Civil War, two historical trends have im-

pacted on contemporary American life: emphasis on a youth-

oriented culture and an increase in the size of the popu-

lation of older people in the United States (Seltzer and

Atchley, 1971). Numerous writers have been involved in

analyzing various aspects of the effects of these trends

(e.g., Anderson and Fialkoff, 1983; Comfort, 1978; Sanoff,

1984; Skinner and Vaughan, 1983; and Taylor, 1980). The

emphasis on speed and youth in the nation has resulted in

the expectation that older people assume a decreasingly

active role in social and industrial productivity (Butler

and Lewis, 1977; Tuckman and Lorge, 1953). Anderson and

Fialkoff (1983) quote Dr. Daniel F. Detzner of the Univer-

sity of Minnesota who "reminds us of the Greek ideal, in

which our society has its roots, that puts youth and its

qualities on a pedestal. Throughout our history youth

has been equated with beauty, vitality, hope; age with

the opposite" (p. 8). This observation is consistent

with the conclusion made by McTavish (1971): "Most

investigators report findings which support the view that

attitudes toward the elderly are most favorable in primi-

tive societies and decrease with modernization to the


point of generally negative views in industrialized,

Western nations" (p. 91). Jose and Richardson (1980)

refer to this expectation as evidence of class distinction

by the youth-oriented ruling class which produces a per-

ception of weakness in the elderly.

The American society has begun to recognize many of

the issues associated with aging (Madison, 1980). Stereo-

typing of the aged has been identified and studies of age-

ism in children's books and in reading textbooks have been


Stereotyping of the Aged

Ansello (1978) charges that stereotypes regarding

growing older are so subtle and pervasive among the public

that remediation is an enormous task. Three instruments

which have been used to discern the attitudes of society

toward the elderly are the Attitudes Toward Old People

scale, the Older Workers Questionaire, and the Old People

Scales (Shaw and Wright, 1967). The characteristics of

ageism, effects of ageism, and efforts to combat ageism

have been described in the literature.

Characteristics of Ageism

Ageism has been defined by Butler and Lewis (1973) as

a process of systematic stereotyping of and discrimi-
nation against people because they are old, just as
racism and sexism accomplish this with skin color and
gender. Old people are categorized as senile, rigid
in thought and manner, old-fashioned in morality and
skills. . Ageism allows the younger generation to
see older people as different from themselves; thus

they subtly cease to identify with their elders as
human beings. (p. 9)

Stereotyping and conveying negative images of the elderly

persist when

1. Elderly people are depicted as inactive, or are
shown as engaging in housework, fishing, walking,
listening, or storytelling;
2. Such adjectives and adverbs as "old," "wrinkled,"
"crippled," "hobbling," "mean," and "crabby" are
used in referring to the elderly; and
3. White hair and bent-over bodies typify the phys-
ical characteristics ascribed to the elderly.
(Storey, 1977, p. 528)

Applebee (1979) identifies other forms of stereotyping

which occur when a group is presented with condescension or

an unrealistic "do-gooder" image, and he notes that stereo-

types can be reflected as much in what is not depicted as

in content which is objectionable in itself.

Why would society frown upon older adults? Comfort

(1978) claims that society assigns a role to the aged of

being physically and intellectually infirm, slow on the up-

take, and rigid in their ways; older adults are not granted

a positive image--"ageist terms are derogatory and demean-

ing because they depict the elderly as possessing largely

undesirable traits and characteristics" (Nuessel, 1982, p.

273). Bandura (1977) espouses the belief that people shun

that which is negative or aversive and gravitate toward

positive role models. Therefore, younger people would be

prone to avoid older adults who are perceived as being

burdens to society. Tuckman and Lorge (1953) and Robin


(1977) assert that the value placed on youth and speed in

this nation is another reason the aged suffer from discrim-

ination. It is also predicated that ageism allows the

younger group to rationalize the expulsion of the elderly

from the work field.

Prejudice toward the elderly is an attempt by younger
generations to shield themselves from the fact of
their own eventual aging and death and to avoid hav-
ing to deal with the social and economic problems of
increasing numbers of older people. It provides a
rationalization for pushing the elderly out of the
job market without spending much thought on what will
happen to them when they are no longer allowed to
work. Ageism is the sacrifice of older people for
the sake of "productivity" and the youth image that
the working world feels compelled to project.
(Butler and Lewis, 1977, p. 141)

Americans may also reject the elderly because of other dis-

torted views the public has assimilated. Carter (1979)

identifies some of the distortions and delineates between

myths and facts:

1. Most elderly people are living in institutions--

only 5 percent do.

2. The aged can live on less because they do not

need as much for clothing, transportation, enter-

tainment, etc. In reality, their financial prob-

lems are more serious because they live on fixed


3. Most old people are pretty much alike--evidence

shows that as people age they tend to become less



4. Old people must be institutionalized because of

senility--only 3 percent of those 65 and over

are institutionalized as a result of psychiatric


5. Aged drivers have more accidents--the National

Safety Council affirms that they have fewer acci-


6. They are set in their ways and are unable to

change--they do adapt and their political and

social attitudes shift with the rest of society.

7. Old adults have no interest in or capacity for

sexual relations--Masters and Johnson found that

the capacity for satisfying sexual relations

continues into the 80s for healthy couples.

8. They cannot work as effectively as younger peo-

ple--consistency of output tends to increase with

age as does accuracy. Older workers have less

job turnover, fewer accidents, and less absentee-

ism than younger workers.

9. Most of the elderly are not healthy enough to

carry out their normal activities--more than 80

percent are able to engage in normal activities.

10. Older people can't learn--developmental psycholo-

gists have found that they can learn when allowed

time to respond in situations which require the


application of newly learned information and/or


Needless to say, it is difficult to be an individual
in a stage of life that is negated and rejected by
the culture. Life cannot be pleasant when one is not
shown respect and when one is expected to be senile,
childish, and generally out of touch. (Page, Olivas,
Driver, and Driver, 1981, p. 46)

If the myths regarding the elderly are dispelled, then

society may begin accepting the aged as productive citizens

quite capable of making positive contributions in various

areas of life. As keener awareness of the talent and ex-

perience available via the older group develops, the aged

may assume a more prominent role in solving some of the

social, political, and economic problems our nation faces.

Effects of Ageism

Researchers who have used content analysis to inves-

tigate ageism in children's literature have typically based

their studies on three underlying assumptions.

One basic assumption is that an individual's atti-
tudes and stereotypes influence not only one's beha-
vior toward others, but also toward oneself. A sec-
ond assumption is that although there is still much
to be known about the actual processes of attitude
formation and acquisition, it is generally believed
that many attitudes and stereotypes are learned ear-
ly in life. A third assumption, difficult to test
empirically, is that literature is one important
agent of social transmission and thus may both re-
flect and direct the attitudes and beliefs held by a
given society. (Blue, 1978, p. 187)

Seltzer and Atchley (1971) concur with the first

assumption: the attitudes and stereotypes people acquire

"have consequences for both the behavior others direct

toward older people and the development of one's self-

concept as an older person" (p. 226). Elderly people who

have incorporated the negative cultural view of themselves

form "self-hatred," become depressed and passive, and

participate in self-denigration (Butler and Lewis, 1977);

"if the words are said often enough, the victims half be-

lieve it themselves" (Comfort, 1978, p. 10). Although

there is little systematic attention given to the possible

effects of negative views of older people, general comments

in the literature suggest that others' views may affect an

older person's feelings of adequacy, usefulness, security,

or depression (McTavish, 1971). When media images are

overwhelmingly negative, comical, and/or idiotic, young

people's perception of old people becomes warped, old

people suffer from the stereotyped image, and middle-aged

people fear the thought of getting older (Bragger, 1976).

The second assumption is affirmed by numerous wri-

ters: "Children's attitudes evolve from value systems

established early by their families and are modified by

interactions with people, influences of institutions, and

information from mass media" (Page et al., 1981, p. 43).

At a young age children are socialized through books which

serve as vehicles through which they are exposed to socie-

tal values and role models which present children with

future images of themselves and influence their aspirations

and goals (Barnum, 1977a; Hurst, 1981; Latimer, 1976;

Taylor, 1980; and Weitzman et al., 1972). Jantz, Seefeldt,

Galper, and Serlock (1976) developed and administered The

Children's Attitude Toward the Elderly (CATE) scale, and

learned that children's feelings were a mixture of positive

responses related to the affective characteristics of older

persons and negative reactions concerning the physical

aspects of age. The CATE scale was administered to another

group of students (Page et al., 1981); they expressed a

reluctance to grow old and they used negative physical

characteristics (e.g., wrinkles, grey hair, false teeth)

to describe the elderly. Other investigators have

recognized that children manifest unfavorable attitudes

regarding the aged (Fillmer, 1984; Fusco, 1981; Hopkins,

1978; and Seefeldt, Galper, Serock, and Jantz, 1978).

"The assumption is commonly made that the media are

influential in determining many of the attitudes and stere-

otypes we develop, including those on aging" (Ulin, 1982,

p. 51). It is assumed that "literature serves as a major

agent of socialization and culture transmission" (Seltzer

and Atchley, 1971, p. 227). "There is a potency in the

messages carried in children's stories. Often there are

hidden agendas. The values the stories convey, the way

they depict people and the images they give children are

what count" (Anderson and Fialkoff, 1983, p. 18). It is

generally believed that the books children read influence

children's attitudes and behaviors and introduce them to

the norms, roles, and values of society (Ansello, 1977;

Barnum, 1977a; Estensen, 1946; Latimer, 1976; Rudman, 1984;

Seefeldt et al., 1978; Storey, 1979; and Taylor, 1980).

Because this assumption is difficult to test empirically,

some researchers rely on scholarly opinion to determine

that a positive relationship exists between the portrayal

of attitudes and values in books and the personality

development of children. Rutherford (1981) cites the fol-

lowing authorities who concur that this assumption is

accurate: Bess Porter Adams, Dewey W. Chambers, Jerome

Bruner, Montgomery Johnston, Paul Hazard, Phyllis Fenner,

Louise Rosenblatt, May Hill Arbuthnot, Zena Sutherland,

Charlotte S. Huck, Doris Young Kuhn, David Russell, Myra

Pollack Sadker, David Miller Sadker, and Ruth Strickland.

It is evident that the effects of ageism harm chil-

dren, adolescents, the middle-aged, and older adults.

This separation of the elderly from the mainstream of
American society has had serious consequences in
terms of the elderly as well as children and young
people. Present conditions have deprived the elderly
of opportunities to contribute their knowledge and
expertise in appropriate areas because they are "too
old." Children, on the other hand, are deprived of
opportunities to develop healthy attitudes toward
their own aging, or even to recognize that they
themselves are part of the aging process. (Parnell,
1980, p. 187)

Fillmer (1982) explains that the self-concepts of elderly

persons suffer from their being viewed as inferior.

Younger persons suffer because their stereotyping of the

elderly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, as those who

view the elderly as inferior consider themselves to be

inferior when they grow older. In recent years older

adults have organized to study the problems inherent in

ageism, to alert society of ways in which the aged are

stereotyped, and to present a realistic representation of

the elderly.

Fighting Ageism--The Gray Panthers

Prior to the 1970s, older people were presented in

outdated and distorted images, and were characterized

generally by inaccurate impressions (Storey, 1977). When

Maggie Kuhn, founder of the Gray Panthers, was faced with

mandatory retirement in 1970, she and five of her friends

joined forces and formed an action group which included

more than 100 people in one year. The media "playfully

dubbed it the 'Gray Panthers' in recognition of the group's

dramatic and sometimes radical techniques and philosophy"

(Clearwater, 1982, p. 1).

The four goals of the Gray Panthers, enumerated by

Clearwater (1982), are as follows:

1. to promote a positive attitude toward aging;

2. to expose inequities and injustices, based on

age, and force them into the public policy arena;

3. to make an impact on social policies which often

reinforce negative stereotypes of aging; and

4. to organize grass roots Gray Panther networks.

The group implements the goals with varied and distinctive

techniques including massive education programs, petition

drives, consciousness-raising groups, demonstrations, ral-

lies, legislative letter writing, and telephone campaigns.

They also initiate lawsuits; organize conferences, semi-

nars and public forums; and serve on local, state and

national committees. They "demonstrate their global con-

cerns through activities within the United Nations .

and have representation on the Executive Committee of the

American Section of the World Assembly on Aging" (Clear-

water, 1982, p. 6).

In 1971 the Gray Panthers participated in the White

House Conference on Aging. By vocalizing their concerns,

they were successful in initiating changes that affected

minority groups.

The Gray Panther Media Watch Task Force was estab-

lished in 1974 in cooperation with the Council on Inter-

racial Books for Children and concerns itself with ageist

portrayals in all media (Anderson and Fialkoff, 1983). The

Gray Panthers seek to maintain an excellent image and to

establish themselves as a reputable activist organization.

The National Administration on Aging funded another

conference in 1981. Media experts and anti-ageism acti-

vists merged to plan for improvement in the quality and

quantity of older people's representation in all aspects of


media operation. They decided to establish a Media Center

and outlined the following goals for the center:

1. to educate the media to present positive and

realistic images and combat stereotyping of older


2. to educate older people in order to improve their

self-images, and

3. to educate children in order to give them a posi-

tive view of the aging process and of older peo-

ple (The White House Conference on Aging,


"Today's average over-65 cohort has more economic

independence and is healthier, more vigorous, better educa-

ted, better informed, and more active than any previous

over-65 cohort" (Ulin, 1982, p. 11). Older adults have

greater expectations and are making themselves heard both

individually and collectively. "The maturing population is

effecting changes in keeping property taxes down, even if

it means spending less on schools; Social Security bene-

fits; health care; and voting participation in the politi-

cal realm" (Sanoff, 1984, p. 41). In regard to property

taxes and public referenda, the "elderly have often been in

the forefront of these movements, creating particularly

strong frictions between younger and older residents on

issues of school financing" (Logan, 1984, p. 7). It is

speculated that the organized political power of the

elderly will grow every year (Skinner and Vaughan, 1983),

and that "the major parties may compete for its favor, or

it may develop its own lobby" (Comfort, 1978, p. 22).

Comfort (1977) suggests that the problems associated with

ageism may be remediated through organization, protest, and



It has been determined that "negative views about

aging are predominately characteristic of our Western cul-

ture, which measures human worth in terms of individual

productivity and power" (Jose and Richardson, 1980,

p. 419). This stereotyping of the aged is destructive to

the young and old alike, and the effects of ageism cause

younger people to fear growing old and inflict a negative

self-image on older adults. Rudman (1984) concludes,

however, that

Fortunately, the aged population is not waiting for
the rest of us to rescue them. Through such organi-
zations as the Gray Panthers and The American Associ-
ation of Retired Persons, and such activities as
elder hostels, they have helped educate the rest of
the population to their abilities and needs.
(p. 307)

Ageism in Children's Books

It has been reported that over the past two decades,


has established that older people in young people's
literature are persistently presented as inactive and
bland, roaming around in a doubtful limbo, relegated

to looking on from the periphery at exciting life
dramas experienced exclusively by characters who are
not old. (Vraney and Barrett, 1981, p. 487)

Out of a total of eight studies focusing on ageism in

children's literature, five investigators agree that there

is frequent stereotyping and discriminating against older

adults in the stories; three researchers disagree with this


The earliest study to consider ageism in children's

books was executed by Seltzer and Atchley (1971). They

examined 40 books to determine changes toward old people

and things in children's books from 1870 to 1960. Their

findings did not support a generally negative picture about

older people and things. They recommended further research

of this topic, but predicted, "It is possible that we will

find attitudes and stereotypes toward the old are not so

negative as social gerontologists expected them to be" (p.


Edward Ansello (1977) was another of the early

researchers to analyze children's books to determine how

the aged are portrayed. He scrutinized 656 books to

identify the (1) presence of older characters; (2) sex of

older characters; (3) racial composition; (4) relationship

to main character; (5) occupational role; (6) behaviors;

(7) illustrations; (8) physical descriptions; and (9) per-

sonality descriptions. He reports that "the cumulative

impression of the older character to be derived from this

body of literature is one of a relatively unimportant,

unexciting, and unimaginative entity" (p. 269). Ansello

(1976b) contends that overt stereotyping, such as

describing old people as ugly or portraying females as

witches is not the problem; subtle stereotyping such as

omission and failing to develop their character in the

story is the insidious problem with ageism. Only 16.46

percent of the books he analyzed contained an older


One hundred books for children of preschool age

through grade three were examined by Phyllis Barnum

(1977b). It was found that the aged were disproportionate-

ly represented; the elderly made up only 3.3 percent of the

characters in the stories and appeared in only 5.3 percent

of the illustrations. "The aged were significantly more

passive, less healthy and less self-reliant than other

adults . which gives an unnecessarily gloomy cast to

old age in children's literature" (pp. 304, 305). She

concluded that "young children's literature provides rein-

forcement for the message about old people that children

get in other ways from society and thus contributes to the

devaluation of the elderly" (pp. 304, 305).

A group of fifth-graders studied ageism in a

collection of children's books, under the direction of D.C.

Storey (1979), and reported that

1. grandparents in the books looked older than their


2. the book elderly and grandparents didn't work,

have fun, or do anything exciting;

3. the book elderly led sad, lonely, and boring


4. the book young people were mean to the elderly,

and treated them as if they were stupid and re-

sponded to them as though they were children;

5. characters in the books did not seem to want

to listen to or talk to the elderly;

6. sometimes the book elderly were mean, crabby,

overly tidy, fussy, and unfair;

7. book elderly liked to remember the good old days

or dream of better times; and

8. there were not many happy books about the aged.

Storey used the following techniques to help the students

become aware of ageism and to help improve attitudes toward

the elderly in a five-week unit with the fifth-graders:

discussion, questionnaire, interviews with the elderly,

older guest speakers, role-playing, and one-line expression


Gladys Blue (1978) used a master list of 173 books

which contained old characters in the area of realistic

fiction to select a random sample of 125 books to probe.

She determined that there was no evidence of stereotyping

or negative portrayal of older people; the aged were char-

acterized in these books in varied positions with diverse

styles of dress, personality, occupations, physical well-

being, and situational roles. (The books she analyzed were

for older readers and each book, to be eligible for the

analysis, had to contain at least one older character.)

Forty picture books, including 20 Caldecott Medal

winners, comprised a sample of children's literature to

determine the extent to which characters portray positive

images or sexist, ageist, and racist stereotypes in chil-

dren's books. Hurst (1981) concluded that the "characters

are involved in almost no decision-making or use of partic-

ipatory skills (observing, supporting, persuading, bargain-

ing, etc.); there are no major political figures, and the

books present a bland, passive view of life" (p. 139). The

findings support the proposition that children's picture

books are biased, sexist, and prejudiced toward minorities.

An exploratory study of ageism in children's litera-

ture for ages 5 to 12, involving 80 books selected from a

list of 117 possibilities, written between 1949 and

1978, was conducted by Wilma Marie Rutherford (1981). She

evaluated nine personal characteristics pertaining to the

aged: mobility, wealth, race, sex, state of health, em-

ployment status, stature, importance to the story, and per-

sonal appearance. In addition, she coded 14 behavior

categories: routine-repetitive, nurturant, physically

exertive, social-recreational, aggressive, expressions of


emotion, constructive-productive, self-sufficiency, avoid-

ance, and dependency. She determined that the aged were

not portrayed in a stereotypical fashion, but were present-

ed with a diversity of roles and activities.

An investigation of the way the elderly who were wid-

owed or never married were represented in children's books

was performed by Vraney and Barrett (1981). They analyzed

131 books of which 64 contained a total of 80 older char-

acters--39 were widowed and 41 were never married. Chi-

square tests of association revealed no significant rela-

tionship between marital status and the frequency of posi-

tive and negative images, the frequency of particular roles

(eccentric, serving the young, or other), or the frequency

of main and minor characters. The findings supported other

reports which indicate that older characters are bland,

dull, and not very creative.

In summary, five research studies focusing on ageism

in children's books, totaling 927 books plus another

collection used in a fifth-grade classroom, supported the

supposition that stereotyping of the aged was prevalent in

children's literature. Three other investigations,

totaling 245 books, indicated that stereotyping of older

adults was not widespread in children's books. Two trends

noted in the literature revealed that the aged were more

prevalent in books published since 1967, even though


their numbers were still disproportionately small (Ansello,

1976a), and there was an increase in realism and frankness

in children's literature with grandparents appearing in

picture books in many different and often complex roles

that offer young children a positive image of the elderly.

"A frequent theme in modern books involving grandparents is

that they can be fun" (Mavrogenes, 1982, p. 897). The

earliest study of ageism, cited in children's books, was

conducted in 1971; the next investigation occurred in 1976;

the last three studies were performed in 1981. Interest in

ageism in children's literature has been gradually

increasing since the early 1970s.

Examination of Basal Reading Series

For decades, the content of basal reading series has

been analyzed. As far back as the 1940s, frequency counts

and percentages were computed for specialized categories to

ascertain various messages which were communicated in read-

ing textbooks (Estensen, 1946). Within the past decade,

four studies have been conducted to determine how the aged

are portrayed in elementary readers (Fillmer and Meadows,

in press; Kingston and Drotter, 1981; Ribovich and Deay,

1979; and Robin, 1977). It appears that "the maturing

society" has been effective in generating awareness of the

image perpetuated by printed media, and has been able to

engender interest in assuring that older adults are

depicted in a realistic, nonstereotypic role as valuable

members of American communities.

Ellen Page Robin (1977) compared 47 basal readers,

published from 1953 to 1968 with 33 readers published in

1975, with regard to the presentation of older characters.

Even though she found that 70 percent of the books con-

tained stories with old characters, less than 6 percent of

the total characters in each set of texts were old, and

older adults were portrayed in fewer than 5 percent of the

illustrations. It was discovered that 66.8 percent of the

total characters in the pre-1970 books were male, and 61.3

percent of the total characters in the 1975 series were

male--a definite sexist distinction was apparent for both

time periods.

The majority of the aged represented were white in

both the earlier books and the 1975 series (66 percent and

50 percent, respectively); the more recent series contained

more elderly who were American Indian (8 percent in the

newer books, as compared to less than 2 percent in the

earlier basals). More of the older characters were animals

in the 1975 series (25 percent, as compared to less than 16

percent in the pre-1970 textbooks). Robin also found that

fewer grandparents were portrayed in the 1975 texts; how-

ever, there were more grandmothers than grandfathers in

these same readers. In terms of occupation, the older


adults in both sets of books included farmers, housewives,

fairy godmothers, wise men, kings, and judges.

The aged were sometimes described as old, happy,

cross, kindly, silly, fat, little, rich, poor, sick, and

cruel. They were generally presented in a positive or

supportive manner, and they were actively engaged most of

the time. While less than 5 percent of the elderly were

widowed in the pre-1970 books, 11 percent were widowed in

the more recent series; failure to note marital status

among the old accurately was a serious exclusion.

Overall, Robin concluded that the "presentation of

old characters is generally consistently positive in con-

tent and form across the grade levels of the texbooks, but

appears to be quite neutral and bland in the more recent

set" (p. 275). She expressed concern that the impact of

misleading and inaccurate pictures of age may influence the

future personal desires of children, and may affect their

treatment of those who are currently members of the older


Six basal reading series, published between 1976 and

1978, were selected by Jerilyn Ribovich and Ardeth Deay

(1979) for analysis of the portrayal of the elderly, espe-

cially aged characters who assumed a central role in the

story. It was learned that 16 percent of the 1600 selec-

tions contained an older character, and 6 percent of those

selections assigned an older adult a role as a main char-


Of the total number of elderly characters, 41 percent

were female and 57 percent were male--the proportion of

elderly characters who had a central role in the story was

35.5 percent female and 64.5 percent male. The ethnic

composition of the older characters was 44 percent white,

10.3 percent native American and Hawaiian, 8.8 percent

black, 4.7 percent Asian American, and 1.8 percent Spanish

American. "When an elderly character assumes a role of

importance in a story, the role is most frequently as a

white male" (p. 35).

Over one-third of the older characters assumed some

form of meaningful responsibility, about 11 percent were in

poor health, and 27.9 percent possessed positive personal

characteristics, but 7.6 percent had negative characteris-

tics. Over two-thirds of the aged were stereotypically

illustrated, and 24.9 percent were nonstereotypically il-


When primary readers were contrasted with intermedi-

ate texts, it was noted that there was a much higher inci-

dence of stereotypic physical descriptors given by the

authors of the intermediate books. Primary materials

contained more illustrations than did the intermediate



Although females were outnumbered by the males in the

stories, women were shown to achieve success more often

than men (75 percent and 54 percent, respectively). When

only intermediate texts were considered, the range in-

creased to 80 percent of the females and 46 percent of the


The researchers concluded that the elderly were pre-

sented as healthy, successful, self-starters, and were re-

sponsible citizens who were able to contribute to others.

"Continuing what may be a recent trend, the elderly might

appear more frequently as central characters" (Ribovich and

Deay, 1979, p. 39). It was determined, though, that the

illustrations depicted the elderly with stereotypic sym-

bols; men were shown as having mustaches or being bald and

women were depicted with their hair in buns. "Current

basal materials reflect a growing awareness of the various

roles and contributions of the elderly as functioning

members of society" (Ribovich and Deay, 1979, p. 40).

Six basal reading series were examined by Kingston

and Drotter (1981) to determine how the aged were por-

trayed. An adjective checklist was developed to identify

common descriptions of the aged; notations were also made

concerning sex, evidence of age, occupation, relationship

to the main character, and role in the story.

Out of a total of 188 older characters, 46 percent

were females and 54 percent were males. About 43 percent


of the aged were grandparents (56.25 percent, grandmothers,

and 43.75 percent, grandfathers). A number of aunts, un-

cles, and neighbors were portrayed, and the elderly were

engaged in a variety of occupations.

Older adults were represented as active, kind, hard-

working, affectionate, wise, and important. However, they

were rarely described as being attractive, beautiful, fash-

ionable, or practical. Women were shown with glasses,

aprons, and their hair in buns. Men tended to smoke pipes

and wear suspenders, and they were often bald.

The illustrations were frequently nonrealistic;

cartoon-like drawings were used to depict aged persons.

The men and women were plump, unwrinkled, and smiling in

the pictures. A number of minority, racial, and ethnic

older persons appeared in the illustrations, and the re-

searchers indicated that publishers may be using pictures,

rather than story content, to satisfy demands for greater

representation of ethnic and racial groups.

The results supported the conclusions drawn by other

investigators who have stated that some types of ageism are

common (in basal reading programs). The aged were

sometimes portrayed in stereotypical garb and tended to be

unimportant characters whose personalities were not fully

depicted. Generally, the older persons were shown in a

positive manner, but they were usually associated (as a

relative or neighbor) with the child protagonist in the


A detailed checklist was used to analyze the treat-

ment of older people in stories and pictures of five sets

of basal readers, published from 1975 to 1983, by Fillmer

and Meadows (in press). All the stories from primer

through sixth grade were scrutinized, and older adults who

appeared in the text, the illustrations, or the text and

illustrations were included in the study.

A total of 553 older characters were identified; 36

percent were females and 64 percent of them were males.

Almost three-fourths of the elderly were white. Fewer than

20 percent of the older characters were portrayed as grand-

parents and fewer than 2 percent were aunts or uncles.

Approximately one-third of the aged were main characters in

the stories, and an additional 24 percent were supportive

story members. About one-fourth of the older adults occu-

pied white collar positions, but the occupational status of

45 percent of the older characters was not indicated. Old-

er characters were depicted as being intelligent and cap-

able; also, they tended to be in good health. Elderly

characters were portrayed negatively only 5 percent of the

time. Such incidences occurred mainly in folklore, with

characters such as giants and Rumpelstiltskin.

Older people in the stories demonstrated qualities of

kindness, cheerfulness, and friendliness. Only 5 percent

were shown to be irritable, grouchy, or mean. Over 90

percent of the time they were actively engaged, and were

rarely portrayed as passive and lazy. They were seldom

shown watching television, rocking, knitting, or storytell-


Only 2 percent of the elderly were portrayed as dowdy

in appearance. The characters frequently had white or gray

hair and wrinkled skin; approximately one-half of the males

were bald or balding.

Elderly men and women appeared most often in modern/

realistic fiction. Few older characters appeared in fanta-

sy or poetry. Many stories showed older adults providing

information to the reader, such as writing, teaching,

inventing, or explaining how to do something. Almost

three-fourths of the illustrations showed older people in

cartoon-like pictures, rather than in a realistic art syle.

The overall impression of the aged was positive--94 percent

of the time the elderly were presented favorably.

In summary, four studies focusing on elementary basal

reading series have been published since 1977. The results

of each study indicated that the aged were underrepresented

in the readers, and the number of males predominated over

the number of females in the selections. The ethnic origin

of the older characters was white most of the time, and

minority members were disproportionately represented.

These researchers concurred that the aged were pre-

sented with a positive image. Older adults were shown to

be kind, friendly, and affectionate. The aged were also in

good health and were generally active, rather than passive

in the roles in which they appeared. They were usually

engaged in some form of meaningful task, but their occupa-

tions often were not indicated.

The majority of older characters assumed roles in the

stories as main or supportive characters, according to

Fillmer and Meadows (in press) and Robin (1977). However,

Kingston and Drotter (1981) and Ribovich and Deay (1979)

reported that there were few main characters in the basal

readers they examined who were older adults. Grandparents

and relatives seemed to be portrayed more often in the pre-

1970 readers than they were in the more recent sets of

basal series.

It was generally agreed that the aged were often

bespectacled and wrinkled (although Kingston and Drotter,

1981, reported that they were unwrinkled), and they fre-

quently had gray or white hair. The males were often bald

or balding. Fillmer and Meadows (in press) found only 4.5

percent of the elderly carrying a cane or walking stick,

but Kingston and Drotter (1981) reported that the aged were

often shown carrying a cane.

More than two-thirds of the older adults were por-

trayed in cartoon-style illustrations, rather than in

realistic pictures. However, younger characters also

frequently appeared in the nonrealistic art style--the

textbook artists did not misrepresent the aged with carica-


While the researchers tended to agree that the aged

were generally presented with a positive image, concern was

expressed that their personalities were not fully developed

in the stories. They tended to be dull and bland as story

members, and there was some stereotyping in the illustra-

tions in which the elderly appeared. Since the over-65 age

group comprises over 11 percent of the total population in

the United States, the number of older characters in the

selections does not accurately reflect the proportion of

older adults in American society.

Summary of Chapter Two

Stereotyping of the elderly occurs when older adults

are presented as inactive, described with negative terms

(wrinkled, mean), frequently associated with the same be-

havior (e.g,. housework), left out of decision-making,

shown to be dependent upon others, or assigned roles in the

literature in which their personalities are not fully de-


Ageism is the notion that people cease to be people,
cease to be the same people or become people of a
distinct and inferior kind, by virtue of having lived
a specified number of years . it is preju-
dice . based on fear, folklore, and the hang-ups
of a few unlovable people who propagate these
[images] . it needs to be met by information,
contradiction and when necessary, confrontation.
(Comfort, 1978, p. 35)

Stereotyping of the aged is detrimental to the young be-

cause it inflicts a fear of growing old, and it is unfair

to the elderly because it imposes a negative self-image on

older adults. The Gray Panthers is a group of individuals

who have organized for the express purpose of combating


Out of a total of eight studies concentrating on

ageism in children's literature, five indicated that there

was discrimination against the aged. The investigators

generally agreed that the elderly story characters were

boring people who led dull, uneventful lives. A modern

trend was noted in the depiction in children's stories of

more grandparents who were fun and who were regarded with

favor, thereby presenting children with positive role

models of older adults. The past decade has witnessed an

increased interest in probing children's books to determine

the portrayal of the aged.

In addition to studies focusing on ageism in chil-

dren's literature, some researchers narrowed their concern

to the way older adults were depicted in elementary basal

reading textbooks. Four studies determined that although

the older adults were usually presented with a positive

image in the readers, they were underrepresented, and the

percentage of males predominated over the percentage of

females. The older characters were mostly white with few

minority representations in the stories, and the aged were


kind, healthy, active, and responsible individuals. Most

older characters fulfilled roles as main or supportive

characters, and grandparents were portrayed less often in

recent readers than they were in the pre-1970 textbooks.

General characteristics of the appearance of older

adults included glasses, wrinkles, gray or white hair, and

balding males. On occasion, the elderly were shown

carrying a cane or walking stick. They often appeared in

expressionistic pictures, rather than in representational

illustrations; younger characters were also included in

cartoon-like illustrations. As in other types of chil-

dren's books, it seemed that the personalities of the older

characters in basal reading stories were not fully devel-


Research over the past two decades has revealed that

older people are not presented in a mean, vicious light;

however, the impression is left with young readers that old

age is a dull time of life in which one is restricted in

activities and dependent upon family for happiness (Vraney

and Barrett, 1981). The Gray Panthers state that the image

of older people has improved, and that book publishers are

conscious of the work of the Council on Interracial Books

for Children (The White House Conference on Aging, 1981).

There are signs that the obnoxious stereotype of age is

becoming out-of-date and that more stories now picture old

people as unique individuals, capable of normal social

interaction (Comfort, 1978; Rudman, 1984).

This chapter has reviewed the literature on stereo-

typing of the aged, ageism in children's books, and the

depiction of the elderly characters in basal reading

series. The present research project is intended to inves-

tigate the way older adults are portrayed in five sets of

basal reading textbooks of the 1960s and in five sets of

basal series of the 1980s. A comparison of the results of

the analyses will show if there are differences in the por-

trayal of older adults two decades ago, as contrasted with

portrayals in today's basal reading textbooks. If there

has been improvement in the way older people are portrayed,

then it will be evident that efforts of social gerontolo-

gists, the Gray Panthers, and recommendations of research

investigators from the 1970s have been effective in gener-

ating not only awareness of the problems of stereotyping of

the aged, but also progress in helping to correct miscon-

ceptions of the past.



Interest in exploring the concept of ageism increased

as the author participated in a basal reader study with her

major professor, and co-authored a report given at the

International Reading Association in 1984. Later the

report was expanded into an article which identified the

results and implications of an in-depth analysis of five

basal reading series, published from 1975 to 1983 (Fillmer

and Meadows, in press). After pondering whether the con-

temporary readers differed markedly from readers published

a couple of decades ago, the author decided that a compara-

tive analysis would reveal how older adults were repre-

sented in the readers of both time periods, and any differ-

ences between them would emerge. The findings would indi-

cate whether efforts of The Gray Panthers and recommenda-

tions of educational researchers had been productive in

achieving fair, realistic, nonstereotypic portrayal of the

aged, as reflected in elementary reading textbooks.

Research Questions

This investigation was designed to collect data on

ageism from 10 sets of basal reading series, spanning

grades one through six. Five sets of the readers were



published in the 1960s and the other five sets, published

by the same five companies, were issued in the 1980s.

Three primary questions and numerous secondary questions

were posed to ascertain whether any significant differences

could be determined between the way older adults were por-

trayed in reading textbooks of the 1960s and the way they

were portrayed in basal reading textbooks of the 1980s.

Primary Questions

The major concern of this analysis addresses the fol-

lowing questions:

1. How are older adults portrayed in five sets of

representative basal reading textbooks of the


2. How are older adults portrayed in five sets of

representative basal reading textbooks of the


3. Are there any significant statistical differences

between the portrayal of older adults in the

readers of the 1960s and the portrayal of older

adults in the textbooks of the 1980s?

It was determined that each older character who appeared in

the text or in the illustration of a basal reader selection

would count as an older adult during the tabulation pro-

cess. Totals of the five sets of readers for each time

period would be compared to answer these major questions.

Secondary Questions

Areas of categorical interest which had surfaced in

previous content analyses of children's reading materials

were identified to help detect whether the aged were

portrayed in discriminatory, stereotypic fashion or not.

The following questions represent a comprehensive

compilation of issues germane to the study of ageism in

children's literature:

1. How does the total number of older characters

relate proportionately to the total number of

characters in the stories?

2. What is the proportion of males to females, as

pertains to the number of elderly characters?

as pertains to the total number of characters?

3. How many references to the aged occur in the


4. What is the ethnic origin of the older character

(white, black, Hispanic, American Indian, Eskimo,


5. What role in the story is assigned to the older

character (main character, supporting character,

minor role)?

6. How is the older adult characterized (grandmoth-

er/grandfather, aunt/uncle, neighbor, other)?

7. What is the occupation of the aged individual

(white collar/professional, blue collar/manual

work, housekeeping, retired, unknown/unclear)?


8. What kind of image does the older character re-

flect (positive, negative)?

9. What is the mentality of the older individual

(intelligent, capable, dull/silly)?

10. How is the older character portrayed with regard

to physical well-being (healthy, sickly, injured,


11. What kind of personality does the older adult

have (pleasant, unpleasant, neutral)?

12. What kind of personal appearance is depicted

(attractive, unattractive, neutral)?

13. What kind of style describes the older person's

dress (fashionable, dowdy, neutral)?

14. What type of posture does the older character

project (normal, bent-over/decrepit)?

15. What general characteristics typify the older

adult (bespectacled, wrinkled, gray/white hair,

hair in bun, balding/semi-balding, cane, apron,

suspenders, tie or bowtie, beard, big nose,

plump, double chin, hat, cap, turban)?

16. In what kind of activities is the older person

engaged (active, passive)?

17. In what genre does the elderly person appear

(fiction, folklore, autobiography/biography, in-

formation, fantasy, history/historical fiction,



18. In what kind of illustrations is the older adult

shown (representational, expressionistic)?

19. What is the overall impression of the aged (posi-

tive, negative)?

20. What is the marital status of the older adult

(single, married, fivorced, widow/widower, inde-


21. In what type of household does the older person

live (lives alone, lives with spouse/family,

lives with son/daughter, lives with roommate(s),

lives in nursing home, indeterminate or other)?

Design and Statistical Analysis

Ten sets of basal reader series were selected for

this study--five series representative of the 1960s and

five series of the 1980s. The table of random numbers was

used to select 25 percent of the stories from each reader

for analysis. The "Checklist for Analyzing Older People"

(located in the appendix), consisting of classifications

which were gleaned from the literature, was used to examine

the portrayal of each older character who appeared in the

narrative and/or pictures in each of the randomly selected


The chi-square statistical technique was used to

compare relative proportions from earlier texts to later


x2 = (fo-fe) / fe

fe = (row total)(column total) / sample total

df = (r-l)(c-l)

The chi-square table provided the p-value, and any p-value

less than .05 represented a statistically significant dif-

ference between the major categories which were compared in

the 1960s readers and the 1980s textbooks.

In addition, the standard error of the difference

between two percentages was computed for individual varia-

bles where a difference of 5 percent or more was noted.

This procedure was applied to identify statistically sig-

nificant differences between variables within the major

categories of the 1960s and 1980s readers. The signifi-

cance of the difference between two percentages was com-

puted by using the following formula (Garrett, 1966, pp.

235, 236):

P = N P, + NP2 / N +Nz

Q = 1-P

aO = PQ (1/N, + 1/Nz)

CR = (P, -P ) / C -Pt

When the critical ratio (CR) exceeded 1.96 in the

"Table of t, for use in determining the significance of

statistics" (Garrett, 1966, p. 461), the obtained differ-

ence was significant at the .05 level of confidence.

Development of the Checklist

In order to assess ageism in children's textbooks,

the author scrutinized research studies which had already

been performed. Notation was made of the various kinds of


issues which were considered by previous investigators to

identify forms of discrimination against the aged. This

procedure helped to validate the theoretical content uni-

verse by outlining the topics, skills, and abilities that

made up the content area, as suggested by Ary, Jacobs, and

Razavieh (1979). After identifying the topics and specific

characteristics which had been used by other researchers to

analyze ageism in children's literature, the author organ-

ized these variables into categories which were representa-

tive of the variables used in other studies. These areas

of concern were synthesized into a four-page checklist

which contained 21 major categories and 76 individual vari-

ables. Sections were divided on the checklist to delineate

male and female tabulations.

The original checklist was used by the author in a

former basal reader analysis. Based on insights gained

from this experience, the current checklist was revised in

some areas to permit more precision in quantifying the

categorical constructs.

Validation of the Checklist for Content Analysis

In trying to insure that the checklist would produce

the desired information, the author deliberated to deter-

mine how well the concepts actually fit the measurements of

them. Budd, Thorp, and Donohew (1967) explain that in the

literature of content analysis, little attention has been

paid to validation procedures.


Judging from the literature, direct validity is often
assumed by the content analyst. This method of vali-
dation presumes that a measure self-evidently mea-
sures what it is supposed to if the categories are
rigidly defined and the coding has a high degree of
reliability. (p. 69)

Some investigators use this method in combination with the

"known-group method, which uses known attitudes and char-

acteristics of a group" (Budd et al., 1967, p. 69).

Ary, Jacobs, and Razavieh (1979) also confirm that

there are no direct means of measuring constructs and state

that researchers must develop indirect means to measure

complex attributes.

These indirect means involve tests and scales consis-
ting of a number of tasks that are selected to serve
as indicators of the complex constructs. One is
never sure that these indirect procedures measure
what they are supposed to be measuring. The ques-
tion of an instrument's validity is always specific
to the particular situation and to the particular
purpose for which it is being used. (p. 196)

"Only the user of a test [instrument] can ultimately judge

its content validity for his/her own pupose" (Ary et al.,

1979, p. 198).

Deriving the major categories on the checklist from

previous research, carefully defining the meaning of each

category, and establishing reliability among coders were

procedures employed by the author to validate this content

analysis. The following explanations of each major divi-

sion on the checklist provide further details to help sub-

stantiate validation of the instrument.

Total number of characters in stories. All story

members, including animals, who appeared in the text and/or

pictures were tabulated. In crowd scenes, only the dis-

cernible characters in the foreground were counted. If the

context of the story did not make it clear whether a char-

acter was male or female, this character was registered as


Total number of elderly. The aged were identified by

(1) descriptive terms in the text, (2) pictures in the

readers, and (3) designation of grandparents in the story.

References only. Each time an older person was men-

tioned in a story, a notation was made, even though the

person was not a character. For instance, if a story char-

acter referred to an old lady, a grandma, or a grandpa, the

reference was recorded on the checklist.

Ethnic origin. All aged characters were classified

according to the following groups: white, black, Hispanic,

American Indian, Eskimo, or other (Oriental, imaginative,

etc.). Names, pictures, and conversation in the stories

helped in identifying the country or race to which the

individual belonged.

Role in the story. Story members who had a major

part in the story and throughout the story were recorded as

main characters; sometimes there were several main charac-

ters. Older characters who had a dominant influence in

the story, but did not have a major role were rated as

supporting characters. All other characters were desig-

nated as having minor roles.

Characterization. The elderly were classified as

grandparents, aunts or uncles, neighbors, or other. A

neighbor was designated as a person in the community who

lived or worked near the other characters.

Occupation. White collar or professional workers

were doctors, dentists, lawyers, scientists, professors,

inventors, teachers, ministers, writers, and businessmen.

Blue collar or manual workers were truck drivers, construc-

tion workers, farmers, storekeepers, or characters who had

jobs requiring physical labor. Housekeepers were charac-

ters who cooked, cleaned, or took care of the home.

Retired characters were story people who were not presently

employed, but the context of the story indicated that they

had worked in earlier days. When it was not clear what the

occupation of the older character was, this data were

marked in the category labeled unknown/unclear.

Image. When a character appeared to be helpful,

skillful, hardworking, or competent, he/she was designated

as being portrayed with a positive image. If the person

was depicted as being a villain or seemed to be incompe-

tent, harmful, dangerous, or helpless, this older adult was

classified as being portrayed in a negative way.

Mentality. Those characters who were astute, keen,

alert, or had jobs requiring use of the mind were

classified as intelligent. If the older adult displayed

common sense and used normal logic, he/she was marked

capable. The elderly characters who seemed dense or thick

or used ridiculous reasoning were registered in the

dull/silly category.

Physical well-being. Characters demonstrating a

normal state of physical vigor were designated healthy,

while the ones who were frail or weak were categorized as

sickly. If one had a broken bone or cut, this was marked

in the injured group, and characters in wheelchairs and

ones who had some other physical limitation (blind, deaf)

were classified as handicapped.

Personality. Happy, kind, and friendly characters

were identified as having a pleasant personality, while

those who were irritable or unfriendly were marked as being

unpleasant. If there was no indication of personality in

the context of the story, the neutral category was marked.

Appearance--personal. Characters who were noticeably

pretty or handsome were classified as being attractive.

Those who had average appeal were designated in the neutral

category. Characters who had exaggerated features or who

appeared ugly or uncomely were registered as being unat-


Dress. Older adults who were dressed in a stylish

manner with blended colors or wearing scarves, jewelry, or

other accessories, were considered fashionable. Those who

wore ordinary apparel were classified in the neutral group.

Those who looked shabby or frumpy were classified as dowdy.


Posture. Characters who were standing, sitting, or

walking in an upright position were designated as having

normal posture. Those who were hunched over or seemed to

be weakened by age were marked in the category labeled


General characteristics. Older adults wearing

glasses were designated as bespectacled. Those who had

lines in their skin were categorized as wrinkled. When

their hair was white or gray, this was also noted on the

checklist. All hairdos in a bun were registered. Older

adults with receding hairlines or obvious loss of hair were

marked as balding or semi-balding. When an aged person

carried a cane, wore an apron, wore suspenders, wore a tie

or bowtie, had a beard, had a big nose, was plump, had a

double chin, or wore a hat, cap, or turban, a notation was


Activities. When an older character was engaged in

an event requiring alertness or physical exertion, he/she

was designated as being an active person. When a character

was portrayed sitting, rocking, or lying down, he/she was

considered to be engaged in a passive activity.

Genre. Modern, general, and realistic fiction sto-

ries comprised those selections that were representative of

life and could really happen; they often dealt with prob-

lems that people must handle. Folklore consisted of epics,

fairytales, and animal stories; they often had a moral or

communicated a truth. Autobiography and biography were

stories of people's lives. Information stories comprised

the areas of physical science, social science, biological

science, religion and the arts, and reference works. Fan-

tasy included adventure stories, science fiction, and se-

lections with other worldly settings, often characterized

by magical power and the manipulation of time. History and

historical fiction stories had settings prior to World War

II, and depicted life in the past. Poetry and songs com-

prised limericks, haiku, free verse, and selections with

rhyme and meter.

Illustrations. Pictures that were true to life, such

as realistic art and photography, were classified as repre-

sentational. Expressionistic art leaned toward abstraction

and included cartoon styles and cubism.

Overall impression of the aged. When the older char-

acters were presented in a supportive manner (healthy,

capable, active, etc.), the overall impression of older

adults was positive. When the elderly were presented in a

denigrative manner (frail, decrepit, dependent, irritable,

etc.), the overall impression was negative.

Marital status. When an older adult was depicted as

never having married, he/she was recorded as being single.

Married people were characters who had a living spouse;

divorced characters were those who were no longer married.

A widow or widower was an aged character whose spouse was

deceased. In those instances where the context of the

story did not indicate the marital status of the aged

character, the indeterminate category was marked.

Household. Tabulations were made for all aged char-

acters regarding their living situation. Did they live

alone? with a spouse and their children? with son or

daughter? with roommate(s)? or in a nursing home? When

the story did not indicate the household situation, the

indeterminate/other category was marked.

Each of the 21 categories on the checklist was care-

fully defined. When conditions appeared in a selection

that were not defined or explained on the checklist, the

coder used personal judgment to classify the instance.

Reliability of Coding Procedures

The author obtained permission to offer a reading

research practicum at the college where she teaches. Two

students enrolled in the course and were trained to use the

checklist to analyze older characters in the basal reader


To confirm the reliability of the checklist, the

author and the two students independently marked the check-

list for three stories portraying older characters from a

basal series. Inter-rater agreement was then computed by

check coding the responses of the investigator and the two

independent coders on the three stories. The following

formula (North, Holsti, Zaninovich and Zinnes, 1964) was

used to compute the degree of agreement:

R = 2(C . / C + C
1, 2 1 2

where the number of category assignments on which coders

agree was divided by the sum of all category assignments by

the coders. Three sets of coder comparisons were made: A

with B; A with C; and B with C. The reliability coeffi-

cients were then averaged to reveal an overall reliability

of .82.

Because one of the students experienced ill health in

the early part of the semester and withdrew from college,

all the sets of reading series were analyzed by the inves-

tigator and the remaining student. The reliability coeffi-

cient between these two coders was .89.

Sources of Data

The Catalog of State Adopted Instructional Materials,

1984-85, distributed by the Department of Education in

Tallahassee, Florida, was consulted for a list of the basal

reading series which were on current state adoption. All

of the series in this reference were published in the

1980s and were available in numerous districts. Therefore,

the author began searching for sets of basal readers of the

1960s which were published by the same companies. After

contacting numerous publishing companies, The Library of

Congress in Washington, D.C., Teacher's College at Columbia

University (where some sets were located), and school


district book depositories, the 1960s readers were finally

located intact in the curriculum laboratory of Southeastern

College of the Assemblies of God in Lakeland, Florida.

Five sets available from the 1960s which matched five sets

by the same publishers of the 1980s are shown in Table 1.

Table 1

Ten Sets of Reading Series Used in Analysis

1960s Basal Series

1. The Ginn Basic Readers


2. (Heath) Reading Caravan


3. (Holt) Sounds of Language

Readers (1964)

4. The Macmillan Reading

Program (1965)

5. (Scott, Foresman) The New

Basic Readers (1962)

1980s Basal Series

Ginn Reading Program


(Heath) American Readers


Holt Basic Reading


Series r: Macmillan

Reading (1983)

Scott, Foresman Reading


Because these 10 sets of basal series are representa-

tive of books used to teach reading in the elementary

classroom during the 1960s and the 1980s, they were con-

sidered appropriate for conducting this investigation of

the way older adults are portrayed in reading textbooks of

each time period.

Collection and Treatment of Data

After the 10 sets of readers were obtained, the table

of contents for each reader, grades one through six, were

duplicated. The stories were numbered and the table of

random numbers was used to select 25 percent of the stories

in each reader for analysis.

All the characters, including animals, in each selec-

tion were counted to find the total number of all charac-

ters in the randomly chosen stories. If an older character

appeared in the selection, each of the relevant categories

on the checklist was marked. A character was considered an

older adult for analysis if it was clear that he/she (1)

was 65 years of age or older, (2) was characterized as a

grandparent, (3) appeared to be older by being described

contextually as "wrinkled," "gray-haired," etc., (4) was

referred to as "The old person who lived down the street,"

or (5) was illustrated as being an old person.

If the older character appeared in the text only, a

"T" was used to mark the checklist; if the person appeared

in the picture only, a "P" was used to mark the categories;

if the person assumed a role in the text and also was de-

picted in the illustration, a "TP" was used to make the

notations on the checklist. When a point of special inter-

est was noted but was not provided for on the checklist,

the coder wrote remarks on the back of the form. (For

example, it was noted that females were referred to as

"Ms.", rather than "Miss" or "Mrs." in a series of the


When all the randomly selected stories in the 10

sets of readers had been analyzed, the Lotus 1,2,3 computer

program was used to tally the results and display the data

on spread sheets. These enumerations were subjected to the

chi-square statistical technique and to procedures for

determining significance of the difference between two

percentages to ascertain if any statistical differences had

occurred when the contemporary readers were compared to the

earlier textbooks.

Summary of Chapter Three

In summation, this project was designed to find out

how the aged were portrayed in basal reading series of the

1960s and the 1980s, and to determine if there were any

differences in the portrayals of these two periods. A

checklist was developed to collect data relevant to 21

categories of information pertaining to the concept of


Five sets of basal readers of the 1960s and five sets

of basal readers of the 1980s were obtained for the analy-

sis. Coders were trained to analyze portrayals of older

characters in the selections and to mark the checklist.

Reliability coefficients were then computed. The chi-

square statistical technique and formulae for determining


significant differences between two percentages were

applied to the data to see if there were any significant

differences between the portrayal of older adults in

readers of the 1960s and readers of the 1980s.



Data for this study were collected from a total of 77

elementary basal readers used in grades one through six--36

textbooks comprised five sets of basal readers of the 1960s

and 41 readers were included in the five sets of reading

textbooks of the 1980s. Out of a total of 2001 stories

from readers of the 1960s, 25 percent were randomly chosen

for analysis; therefore, 504 selections (stories, poems,

articles, etc.) were examined. From a total of 2240 sto-

ries from books of the 1980s, 563 were randomly selected

for examination. The purpose of this content analysis was

to determine the portrayal of older adults in basal reading

series of the 1960s and of the 1980s, and to compare the

results to see if there were any differences in the way the

aged were portrayed in basal readers for the two time


A coding checklist was used to gather data pertaining

to older adults in the basal reading selections. Specific

categories of information concerning the depiction of the

aged were identified to help in determining if older adults

were victims of ageism in the readers. Areas of special

interest comprised the following: demographic data,



literary depiction, personal characteristics, and general


The chi-square statistical technique was applied to

21 separate categories to determine whether there were any

significant differences in the portrayal of older adults in

the readers of the 1960s when compared to the reading text-

books of the 1980s. The alpha level was set at .05 and any

p-value of .05 or less indicated that there were statisti-

cally significant differences in the categories which were

compared in the readers of the 1960s and 1980s.

In addition to using the chi-square procedure, the

formula for determining statistical differences between two

percentages was employed when individual variables reflec-

ted a difference of 5 percent or more for the two time

periods. This procedure was applied to the data to find

any significant differences between specific areas within

major categories of the 1960s and 1980s. (An asterisk in

the tables signifies statistical significance.)

Presentation of Findings

The total number of characters in the 25 percent of

stories selected for analysis in readers of the 1960s was

3040, and the total was 3536 for the 1980s. Of these sums,

795 female characters, 1752 male characters, and 493 inde-

terminate characters were tallied for the 1960s. For the

1980s, there were 1259 females, 1776 males, and 501

indeterminate characters. The chi-square statistic implies


a significant difference in the proportion of male, female,

and indeterminate characters between the readers of the

1960s and those of the 1980s, as displayed in Table 2. A

follow-up CR indicates that the increase in the proportion

of females and the decrease in the proportion of males in

the newer readers are significant when compared to the

1960s textbooks.

Table 2

Total Number of Male, Female, and Indeterminate Characters
in Basal Readers of the 1960s and 1980s

Periods Female Male Indeterminate Total

No. % No. % No. % No.

1960s 795 (26) 1752 (58) 493 (16) 3040

1980s 1259 (36) 1776 (50) 501 (14) 3536

Total 2054 3528 994 6576

x(2, N = 6576) = 68.16, 2<.01*

Demographic Data

Vital social statistics considered in this study were

sex, nationality, occupation, marital status, and household

situation. The portrayal of the elderly in these areas

communicated a message that helped identify what status the

older adult had obtained in life. The position assigned to

the aged in the literature indicated whether the character

was a productive, self-sufficient individual or whether the

older character was dependent and needed to be helped.


These data also helped to determine if there was discrimi-

nation against older characters in the readers.

The total number of elderly characters in the readers

of the 1960s was 154 out of 3040 characters, representing

5.1 percent of all characters. The elderly female charac-

ters comprised 22 percent of this total, and the older

males made up 78 percent of elderly characters. The number

of elderly characters in textbooks of the 1980s was 216 out

of 3536, comprising 6.1 percent of the total number of all

characters. Female elderly in the 1980s readers numbered

74 (34 percent) and the male elderly numbered 142 (66

percent). These percentages reveal that there was a pre-

ponderance of elderly male characters compared to elderly

females in readers of both periods. Chi-square figures

suggest a statistically significant difference, and the CR

indicates that the increase in the proportion of older

female characters and the decrease in the proportion of

elderly males in the contemporary readers are significant.

Table 3 shows the numbers and percentages for the elderly

female and male characters.

(It was also noted that 8 percent of all elderly

characters were animal characters in the readers of the

1960s and 7 percent were animal characters in the 1980s

texts. The proportion of elderly in primary and intermedi-

ate levels was almost evenly distributed in the 1960s

readers--48 percent of the elderly characters appeared in


primary stories and 52 percent comprised the intermediate

levels. In the 1980s textbooks, 44 percent of the older

characters appeared in primary stories and 56 percent were

present in the intermediate levels.)

Table 3

Total Number of Female and Male Elderly in Reading Text-
books of the 1960s and 1980s

Periods Female Male Total Elderly

No. % No. % No.

1960s 34 (22) 120 (78) 154

1980s 74 (34) 142 (66) 216

Total 108 262 370

xI(l, N = 370) = 6.51, p<.02*

In addition to tallying the total number of elderly

characters, the number of references to older people in the

texts was also counted. In the readers of the 1960s, 19

percent (5) of the references were female and 81 percent

(21) were male. In the textbooks of the 1980s, 39 percent

(23) of the references were female and 61 percent (36) were

male. The chi-square statistic and the CR indicate that

there was a significant difference. There was a greater

proportion of male references in the 1960s, but there was a

substantial increase in female references in the stories of

the 1980s. Table 4 provides the totals for the number of

elderly references.

Table 4

Number of Male and Female Elderly References

Periods Female Male Total

No. % No. % No.

1960s 5 (19) 21 (81) 26

1980s 23 (39) 36 (61) 59

Total 28 57 85

xt(l, N = 85) = 3.96, p<.05*

Ethnic origin was another demographic concern which

was computed in this analysis. The majority of older char-

acters in both periods were white--69 percent in the 1960s

and 68 percent in the 1980s. However, there was a higher

percentage of black, Hispanic, and American Indians por-

trayed in the contemporary readers. The chi-square calcu-

lation indicates significant differences in this category.

The CR signifies that the increase in the proportion of

blacks and the decrease in the "other" category are signif-

icant. Table 5 provides the numerical distinctions among

these variables.

What occupation was assigned to older characters in

the readers? The results showed that about one-half of the

time the occupation of the older person was not clear, or

that the occupation did not fit the typical categories of

white collar, blue collar, housekeeping, or retired. Books

Table 5

Ethnic Oriqin of Older Characters

Periods White Black Hispanic Am. Indian Eskimo Other Total

No. % No. % No. % No. % No. % No. % No.

1960s 106 (69) 3 (2) 2 (1) 2 (1) 0 (0) 41 (27) 154

1980s 147 (68) 20 (9) 6 (3) 8 (4) 0 (0) 35 (16) 216

Total 253 23 8 10 0 76 370

x'(5, N = 370) = 15.29, p<.01*

of the 1980s depicted more elderly white collar workers

than did the readers of the 1960s, 27 percent and 21 per-

cent respectively. There were more elderly blue collar

workers in the texts of the 1960s, 23 percent compared with

the books of the 1980s, 19 percent. More older adults

performed housekeeping duties in the 1960s readers (6

percent compared to 2 percent in the recent texts). More

retired characters were identified in the contemporary

readers--2 percent compared with .6 percent in the older

series. The data pertaining to occupation presented in

Table 6 indicate that there are no significant differences

between the books of the two periods.

Examining the marital status of the older characters

disclosed that the context of the stories of both periods

usually did not make it clear whether the person was sin-

gle, married, divorced, or widowed. Marital status was

indeterminable in 79 percent of the instances in the early

readers and in 83 percent of the instances in the recent

stories. Fewer older adults appeared to be married in the

1980s readers, 10 percent compared to 15 percent in the

older textbooks. More elderly were widowed in the current

readers, 4 percent compared to 1 percent in the early

series. Information provided in Table 7 suggests that

there is no significant difference in the depiction of

marital status of the elderly in texts of the 1960s and


Table 6

Occupation of Older Characters

White Blue

Periods Collar Collar Housekeeping Retired Other Total

No. % No. % No. % No. % No. % No.

1960s 32 (21) 36 (23) 9 (6) 1 (.6) 76 (49) 154

1980s 59 (27) 41 (19) 5 (2) 5 (2) 106 (49) 216

Total 91 77 14 6 182 370

x'(4, N = 370) = 5.9, p>.05

Table 7

Marital Status of Elderly Characters


Periods Single Married Divorced Widowed minate Total

No. % No. % No. % No. % No. % No.

1960s 8 (5) 23 (15) 0 (0) 2 (1) 121 (79) 154

1980s 7 (3) 22 (10) 0 (0) 8 (4) 179 (83) 216

Total 15 45 0 10 300 370

x1(4, N = 370) = 4.46, p>.05


Analyzing the household situation of the older char-

acters revealed that their roles in the story usually did

not indicate whether they lived alone, with a spouse and

their children, with one of their children, with a room-

mate, or in a nursing home. None of the aged characters in

the books of the 1960s or 1980s lived in a nursing home,

while 3 percent of the older adults lived with a son or

daughter in stories of both time periods. About 3 per-

cent of the older people lived with a roommate in the books

of the 1960s and about 4 percent had a roommate in the

readers of the 1980s. More elderly lived alone in the

earlier readers (18 percent compared to 6 percent in the

current readers). More of the older characters dwelled

with a spouse and children in the 1960s textbooks (17 per-

cent compared to 13 percent in the newer series). There

were more indeterminate household instances in the newer

readers (77 percent compared to 60 percent) than in the

earlier textbooks. The data in Table 8 imply that the

differences regarding where older characters lived in the

stories of both time periods are significant. The CR indi-

cates that the decrease in the proportion of older adults

living alone and the increase in the proportion of indeter-

minate household situations in the 1980s readers are


Literary Depiction

This comprehensive analysis of the portrayal of older

people in children's basal readers investigated the

Table 8

Household Where the Older People Lived

Lives Spouse/ Son/ Room- Nursing Inde-

Periods Alone Family Daughter mate Home term. Total

No. % No. % No. % No. % No. % No. % No.

1960s 27 (18) 26 (17) 4 (3) 4 (3) 0 (0) 93 (60) 154

1980s 12 (6) 29 (13) 6 (3) 9 (4) 0 (0) 160 (77) 216

Total 39 55 10 13 0 253 370

xl(5, N = 370) = 16.16, R<.01*

literary depictions of the aged in the stories. Specifi-

cally, it was important to identify the role of the older

person, the character he/she was assigned, the genre in

which the older adult appeared, and the type of illustra-

tions in which the older characters were depicted.

The results showed that there were more elderly main

characters in the books of the 1960s than there were in the

readers of the 1980s, 38 percent and 34 percent, respec-

tively. There were more older adults with minor roles in

the stories in the books of the 1980s, 43 percent compared

to 34 percent in the older readers. More aged characters

were shown in supportive roles in the early readers, 27

percent compared to 23 percent in the current textbooks.

Tabulations displayed in Table 9 reveal that there are no

significant differences in the roles the elderly characters

assumed in the stories of the two periods.

Table 9

Role in the Story

Main Supporting Minor

Periods Character Character Role Total

No. % No. % No. % No.

1960s 59 (38) 42 (27) 53 (34) 154

1980s 74 (34) 50 (23) 92 (43) 216

Total 133 92 145 370

xt(2, N = 370) = 2.62, Q>.05


Characterization of the older adults was ascertained

by tallying the number of aged characters who were grand-

parents (or great grandparents), aunts and uncles (or great

aunts and uncles), neighbors, or other story members.

There were 2 percent more grandparents in the readers of

the 1960s, 13 percent compared to 11 percent in the recent

series. There were also a few more aunts and uncles, 2

percent in the 1960s and 1 percent in the textbooks of the

1980s. More older people were portrayed as neighbors in

the earlier textbooks, 15 percent compared to 10 percent in

the contemporary readers. The current series contained

more older characters who were classified in the "other"

category, 78 percent compared to 70 percent in the early

readers. Table 10 displays the characterization categories

and shows that there are no significant differences between

the two periods.

Table 10

Characterization of Older People in Elementary Readers

Periods Grandpts. Aunt/Uncle Neighbor Other Total

No. % No. % No. % No. % No.

1960s 20 (13) 3 (2) 23 (15) 108 (70) 154

1980s 23 (11) 2 (1) 22 (10) 169 (78) 216

Total 43 5 45 277 370

xt(3, N = 370) = 3.4, p>.05

The genre in which older adults appeared was also

considered. It was found that the reading texts of the

1980s favored more information selections than the books of

the 1960s, 13 percent and 6 percent, respectively. The

contemporary readers also included more biography (11

percent compared to 8 percent in the 1960s), more fantasy

(5 percent compared to 2 percent in the earlier editions),

less fiction (40 percent compared to 45 percent in the

1960s), fewer historical fiction stories (3 percent com-

pared to 6 percent in the 1960s), and fewer poetry selec-

tions (4 percent compared to 5 percent in the older read-

ers). The chi-square calculations detected no significant

differences between the readers of the 1960s and the 1980s.

However, when the formula for determining statistical

differences between two percentages was employed, the CR

indicated that the difference between the proportion of

information selections in the readers of the 1960s and of

the 1980s was significant. The data providing the classi-

fications by genre, presented in Table 11, reveal the

differences between the basal readers of the 1960s and the

readers of the 1980s.

Two categories of art style were designated to

analyze the types of illustrations in which the older

adults were included. Representational art referred to

illustrations which were realistic in nature, such as pho-

tographs and true to life drawings, while expressionistic

Table 11

Genre in Which the Elderly Appear

Folk- Infor- Hist.

Periods Fiction lore Biography mation Fantasy Fiction Poetry Total

No. % No. % No. % No. % No. % No. % No. % No.

1960s 70 (45) 42 (27) 13 (8) 10 (6) 3 (2) 9 (6) 7 (5) 154

1980s 87 (40) 52 (24) 24 (11) 29 (13) 10 (5) 6 (3) 8 (4) 216

Total 157 94 37 39 13 15 15 370

x(6, N = 370) = 9.38, p>.05

Information Only: CR = -2.26, p<.05*

art referred to illustrations which were cartoon-like in

style. It was learned that the readers of the 1980s con-

tained more expressionistic illustrations than those of the

1960s, 69 percent and 49 percent, respectively. The chi-

square calculations, shown in Table 12, indicate that this

difference is statistically significant. The CR confirms

that the increase in the proportion of expressionistic

illustrations in the newer readers is significant.

Table 12

Illustrations in Which Older Adults Are Depicted

Periods Representational Expressionistic Total

No. % No. % No.

1960s 76 (51) 73 (49) 149

1980s 65 (31) 146 (69) 211

Total 141 219 360

x'(1, N = 360) = 15.23, p<.01*

Personal Characteristics

Much of the research regarding ageism concluded that

older adults were shown in stereotypical garb and were

depicted unrealistically. This study analyzed personal

features, including posture, mentality, physical well-

being, personality, personal appearance, dress, and general

characteristics. If the older characters were repeatedly

associated with the same description or consistently


represented with the same symbols, then the accusation of

stereotyping would be verified.

The coders carefully scrutinized the pictures and the

text to determine whether the older adult had normal, up-

right posture or whether the character was bent-over or

decrepit. It was found that in the readers of the 1960s

and of the 1980s, the elderly were generally portrayed with

normal posture. Bent-over appearance was noted in only 7

percent of the instances in the 1960s, and only 6 percent

of the time in the readers of the 1980s. (In both time

periods, older adults used a cane in about 1 out of 20

occasions.) Table 13 shows that the results of the

analysis regarding the way the older characters in the

stories carried themselves reveal no significant differ-

ences between periods.

Table 13

Posture of the Older Characters

Periods Normal Bent-over Total

No. % No. % No.

1960s 143 (93) 11 (7) 154

1980s 202 (94) 14 (6) 216

Total 345 25 370

x2(l, N = 370) =.18, p>.05

This investigation was also concerned with the way

older characters were portrayed regarding their ability to

participate in decision-making and problem-solving

situations. The stories were probed to determine how the

elderly were depicted mentally. They emerged as capable

and/or intelligent in over 90 percent of the occurrences in

both the readers of the 1960s and in the textbooks of the

1980s. The earlier books portrayed 3 percent of the aged

characters as dull or silly, while only 1 percent of the

later selections presented them in this light. Table 14

provides these data which show the differences between

readers of the two periods.

Table 14

Mentality of the Aged in the Readers

Periods Intelligent Capable Dull/Silly Total

No. % No. % No. % No.

1960s 40 (26) 109 (71) 5 (3) 154

1980s 63 (29) 150 (69) 3 (1) 216

Total 103 259 8 370

xz(2, N = 370) = 2.51, p>.05

The physical well-being of the older characters was

studied in the elementary readers. For both time periods,

the elderly were shown as healthy individuals in 94% of the

cases. They were sickly in only 5% percent of the

instances in the 1960s stories, and in only 4 percent of

the instances in the 1980s readers. Very few injured or

handicapped aged were represented in the stories of the

1960s or 1980s. The physical condition of the older adults

is presented in Table 15 and no significant differences

between periods is indicated.

Table 15

Physical Well-being of the Older Characters

Periods Healthy Sickly Injured Handicapped Total

No. % No. % No. % No. % No.

1960s 145 (94) 8 (5) 1 (.6) 0 (0) 154

1980s 203 (94) 9 (4) 3 (1) 1 (.4) 216

Total 348 17 4 370

xt(3, N = 370) = 1.24, p>.05

The personality of the older characters was examined

to determine whether they were portrayed as happy, kind,

and friendly people or whether they were irritable and

unfriendly. The results indicate that the majority of aged

characters were pleasant, while only a few were unpleasant

in the stories of both time periods. Sometimes they were

classified as neutral, when it was hard to tell from the

context of the story what kind of personality they had.

Older characters fit the neutral category in 23 percent of

the instances in both the 1960s and 1980s textbooks. Table


16 displays the data on the personality of the aged which

show no significant differences between periods.

Table 16

Personality of Older Adults in the Stories

Periods Pleasant Unpleasant Neutral Total

No. % No. % No. % No.

1960s 107 (69) 12 (8) 35 (23) 154

1980s 151 (70) 15 (7) 50 (23) 216

Total 258 27 85 370

x'(2, N = 370) = .15, p>.05

The text and illustrations were analyzed to see how

the older adults were presented in regard to personal

appearance. Judging whether a character was pretty or

handsome or ugly or uncomely involved some subjectivity on

the part of the coder, and only those story members who

appeared to be more attractive than average or less attrac-

tive than average were classified in a category other than

neutral (average appeal). The tabulations show that most

of the older characters were average in appearance, 76

percent in the books of the 1960s and 70 percent in the

stories of the 1980s. More attractive than unattractive

older characters were included in the books of both time

periods, and more attractive older adults were found in the

stories of the recent series, compared with the readers of


the past (21 percent compared to 15 percent). The results,

showing no significant differences regarding personal

appearance in texts of the two periods, are given in Table


Table 17

Personal Appearance of the Aged Characters

Periods Attractive Unattractive Neutral Total

No. % No. % No. % No.

1960s 23 (15) 14 (9) 117 (76) 154

1980s 45 (21) 20 (9) 151 (70) 216

Total 68 34 268 370

xt(2, N = 370) = 1.9, p>.05

In analyzing the personal portrayal of the older

characters, this investigation carefully noted the way they

were dressed. Most of the aged wore ordinary apparel in

books of the 1960s and of the 1980s. Women wearing

jewelry, color-coordinated clothes, or stylish accent

pieces were classified as fashionable; men wearing suits,

ties, or contemporary clothing were designated as fashion-

able. The results show that older characters in the recent

series were fashionable in 41 percent of the instances,

compared to 34 percent in the earlier series. Older adults

who wore shabby clothes or who looked frumpy were classi-

fied as dowdy--only 4 percent of the characters fit this