memory performance among youth from the three cultures. Taken together, these findings suggest that being exposed to negative age stereotypes, or living in a culture that endorses the negative stereotypes, may undermine older adults’ ability to perform optimally on memory tests.
Taken as a whole, this research suggests that exposure to age stereotypes can influence older adults’ performance in a variety of domains. The findings are quite provocative when contrasted to the traditional views of aging that attribute the cognitive, psychological, and behavioral declines associated with advanced age exclusively to biological factors. Instead, this work suggests that negative stereotypes may explain some of the age-related variance in cognitive and physical task performance that has been attributed to biological differences (e.g., Baltes et al., 1998). It is important to note, however, that this line of research does not deny that there are biological changes associated with aging. Instead, it underscores the need to consider both biological and social/contextual factors in order to form a complete understanding of the age-related cognitive and behavioral changes that shape the life experiences and opportunities of older adults (e.g., Blanchard-Fields and Chen, 1996).
Despite the prevalence of negative self-relevant stereotypes, most older adults have a positive sense of subjective well-being (Haug, Belkgrave, and Gratton, 1984; Mroczek and Kolarz, 1998). Diener and Shuh (1998), for example, found that the later adult years are associated with increased feelings of life satisfaction. Similarly, Thunher (1983) found no changes in happiness during the 8 years following retirement, when the stigma of “too old” becomes salient. Moreover, Levy and Langer (1994) found that the self-esteem of American and Chinese older adults did not differ from that of young adults in those cultures. These findings are consistent with research on other stigmatized groups, such as blacks and women (Crocker and Major, 1989).
How do older adults maintain positive well-being in the face of stressors associated with aging? Research indicates that stigmatized individuals do not passively accept society’s negative stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination (Zebrowitz, 2003; see also Crocker, Major, and Steele, 1998; Miller and Major, 2000, for reviews). Instead they use a variety of strategies to respond to and cope with prejudice and stigma-related stress. Here, we use Miller and Meyers’ (1998) theoretical framework of compensatory strategies as a way to understand older adults’ strategies for coping with stigma-related stress. Miller and Meyers suggest that the strategies individuals use to cope with a devalued social identity can be categorized into two groups: (1) primary compensatory strategies and (2) secondary com-