Ageism during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Yukta Kulkarni ’22

Figure 1: The Covid-19 nasal test (vile on the right) and vaccine (vile on the left) are two indicators of safety and health during the pandemic. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the day-to-day lives of countless people. Experts predict that society will revert to how it was pre-pandemic with the development of the Covid-19 vaccine. However, since a limited number of vaccines have been produced and shipped to vaccination centers, demand currently outweighs the supply. Nevertheless, ageism is prevalent in the United States and has intensified within the last year, sparking debates on whether or not the elderly deserve priority in healthcare services such as Covid-19 tests and vaccines. While ageism can be defined as viewing the elderly as incompetent, it is split into two views: benevolent ageism views older adults as compassionate and in need of help, while hostile ageism views them as burdensome. Apriceno et al. hypothesized that those with benevolent ageism will support the elderly acquiring the vaccine early, while those with hostile ageism do not support the prioritization of this population in receiving the vaccine. 

500 first-year undergraduate students participated in an online survey between April 16 and May 12, 2020, where they ranked the level of priority a randomized group should be given for healthcare scenarios (ventilator usage, Covid-19 testing, and the Covid-19 vaccine) and employment scenarios (job retention, full salary retention, and working from home) from 0 (no priority) to 10 (highest priority). Besides the elderly, the randomized groups also included young adults, first responders, people with health insurance, parents with children, people with and without preexisting conditions, women, and men. These served as “distractor groups” to minimize choosing bias pertaining to the actual group of interest (the elderly). All participants also answered questions on a scale from 1-6 to determine if they showed signs of benevolent or hostile ageism. 

Linear regression analysis was conducted on the six healthcare and employment scenarios in relation to their answers for benevolent or hostile ageism. It was found that people who were inclined towards benevolent ageism were more likely to support prioritization of the elderly for ventilators, testing, vaccine, salary retention, and working from home. On the other hand, people who were inclined towards hostile ageism were more likely to believe they should not receive priority for the aforementioned scenarios. The job retention scenario did not yield significant data. These results suggest that the type of ageism affects perception of who deserves priority treatment during the pandemic, which can be harmful for older adults, who ultimately contend with these beliefs in healthcare and employment settings. 

Works Cited:

[1] M. Apriceno, et. al., Prioritizing health care and employment resources during covid-19: Roles of benevolent and hostile ageism. The Gerontologist 61, 98-102 (2021). Doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/gnaa165 

[2] Image retrieved from: https://pixabay.com/photos/vaccine-test-covid-19-5873170/ 

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