Ageing and Society

The portrayal of older people in prime time television series: the match with gerontological evidence

a1 Jacobs Centre for Lifelong Learning and Institutional Development, International University, Bremen, Germany.
a2 Deutsches Institut für Internationale Pädagogische Forschung [German Institute for International Educational Research (DIPF)], Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

Article author query
kessler e-m   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
rakoczy k   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
staudinger u   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 


Empirical studies in several disciplines including sociology, psychology and communications science have investigated images of older people in the mass media, but analyses to date have failed systematically to apply gerontological concepts and to compare the portrayal of old age with ‘real-world’ evidence. A model of older people's internal and external resources was used to assess the portrayal of older people in prime-time television drama series. Three hours of programmes broadcast over six weeks in 2001 of 32 prime-time television series on the four German networks with the largest market shares were examined. The age of 355 portrayed characters were estimated, and the socio-economic, health-related and psychological resources of the 30 characters rated as 60 years or older were assessed. Observational categories and rating dimensions were developed on the basis of the resource model. Older people were heavily under-represented, especially women and those of advanced old age. Furthermore, the representation of older people's social participation and financial resources was overly positive. Finally, older women and men were portrayed in traditional gender roles. The antecedents and consequences of the biased portrayals (of old and young people) are discussed from a psychological perspective.

(Accepted February 26 2004)

Key Words: gender stereotypes; gerontology; observational categories; old age; older women; mass media; resilience; resources.

c1 Eva-Marie Kessler or Ursula M. Staudinger, International University Bremen, Jacobs Centre for Lifelong Learning and Institutional Development, PO Box 750561, D-28725, Germany. e-mail: or