UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 2 | Jan.
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who feels oldest of us all?
Study explores what "age" means to different generations
by Michelle Cook staff writer
There comes a day for all of us when we glance into a mirror and
see someone we don't recognize staring back. Anita Hubley calls
it the moment of clarity.
"We have this image of ourselves that gets frozen in time," says
Hubley, an assistant professor in Educational and Counseling Psychology
and Special Education. "I don't think people are entirely aware
of when it occurs, but it happens to men and women. There's a moment
when they realize that they feel a different age on the inside than
they look on the outside."
Getting them to articulate this is part of a four-year study that
Hubley is undertaking to explore what "age" means to different generations.
Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, it
is the first Canadian study of its kind to look at cross-generational
perceptions of aging.
One question she hopes to answer is whether our age identities
Research shows that people have both set and contextual views
on age and the inconsistency can affect things such as survey results.
Hubley hopes her research will provide clues on how to more effectively
word questions about age on large-scale marketing, government, health
or other surveys and questionnaires.
For her research, Hubley is running 16 focus groups of men and
women born between 1930-1944 (Depression/Second World War), 1945-1954
(Baby Boom/Vietnam), 1955-1964 (Baby Boom /"Me" generation), and
1965-1976 (Baby Bust).
In several sessions, the generation and gender-specific groups
discuss their feelings about age, and words related to it such as
"old," "middle-aged," and "act your age."
The language each group uses to describe themselves and other generations
is of key importance to Hubley. While her data collection is not
yet complete, she has already begun to make some interesting discoveries.
She has found that most people have difficulty articulating what
age means to them and summarizing their experiences of it. With
the exception of a core group of baby boomers, most participants
don't know what generation they belong to, identifying instead with
a specific decade.
Hubley also found that the youngest generation is also the most
anxious about aging, and that both women and men are concerned about
becoming invisible at a certain age, with men beginning to feel
overlooked within society by their mid-30s.
What has surprised Hubley most is how much male participants are
enjoying the focus group discussions.
"It's difficult to get men into research studies," Hubley says.
"But I've found men are just as interested as women in this topic.
Several have said that the focus group is the only opportunity they
get to discuss such issues."