Film Study: Pop Culture Stereotypes Aging Americans

Studies from Humana and Dr. Stacy L. Smith at the USC Annenberg
School for Communication and Journalism reveal prevalence of ageism in
film and the power of embracing a healthy mindset for healthy aging

LOUISVILLE, Ky.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–New research reveals few characters aged 60 and over are represented in
film, and that prominent senior characters face demeaning or ageist
references. These negative and stereotypical media portrayals do not
reflect how seniors see themselves – or their lifestyles. These findings
stem from two studies conducted by health and well-being company Humana
. (NYSE: HUM) and the Media, Diversity, & Social Change
Initiative at University of Southern California’s (USC) Annenberg School
for Communication and Journalism. The studies also reveal that aging
Americans who are more optimistic report having better health.

Led by Dr. Stacy L. Smith, USC’s study analyzed the 100 top-grossing
films from 2015 to assess the portrayal of characters aged 60 and over.
Humana also conducted a quantitative analysis, asking seniors to
identify the lifestyle traits that are important when aging, to assess
the degree to which these traits describe them and to provide their
point of view on senior representation in media. Major findings include:

  • In film, seniors are underrepresented, mischaracterized and
    demeaned by ageist language.

    • The findings show just 11 percent of characters evaluated were
      aged 60 and over; U.S. Census data shows that 18.5 percent of the
      population is aged 60 and over.
    • Out of 57 films that featured a leading or supporting senior
      character, 30 featured ageist comments – that’s more than half of
      the films. Quotes included characters being referred to as “a
      relic,” “a frail old woman” and “a senile old man.” According to
      Humana’s quantitative survey, seniors report they are highly aware
      (95 percent), resilient (91 percent) and physically active (71
    • Only 29.1 percent of on-screen leading or supporting characters
      aged 60 or older engaged with technology, whereas 84 percent of
      aging Americans report that they use the internet weekly.
    • Of the senior characters that died on screen, 79.2 percent of
      deaths were a result of physical violence — such as being shot,
      stabbed or crushed. This does not accurately reflect causes of
      death for the aging population, which are heart disease and other
      chronic illnesses.
  • But that’s not real life and seniors know it – people aged 60 and
    over lead active social lives and value internal, psychological

    • Aging Americans are using technology: 84 percent of respondents
      report that they use the internet to read news, social network
      sites or other info on a weekly basis, despite only 29.1 percent
      of on-screen characters engaging with technology.
    • On screen, one third of seniors pursue interests in hobbies and
      38.5 percent attend events, while in reality, they are more than
      two times as likely to engage socially with friends or relatives
      on a weekly or monthly basis.
    • The top five traits respondents rated as most important to aging
      successfully were self-reliance, awareness, honesty, resilience
      and safety. In film, seniors are rarely depicted as the masters of
      their own stories or destinies.
  • As Americans age, one element seems to be key for their physical
    and mental health: optimism.

    • Humana’s quantitative survey found that seniors who rate
      themselves as very optimistic about aging tend to be the most
      active physically, socially and in their communities.
    • They also report a much lower number of physically unhealthy days
      on average: just 2.84 for the most optimistic, compared to 12.55
      physically unhealthy days for the least optimistic.
    • The most optimistic also feel on average 12 years younger than
      their actual age (those who are least optimistic feel on average 7
      years older than their actual age).
    • Those seniors who do feel that media accurately portrays them
      think about aging more than average and have a higher level of
      fear around aging than their peers.

“Seniors are rarely seen on screen, and when they are, they are
ridiculed,” said Dr. Stacy L. Smith, director of the Media, Diversity &
Social Change Initiative at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and
Journalism. “When did we become a society that is comfortable with
subtle and stigmatizing stereotypes about a group that have long served
as the pillars and stalwarts of our communities?”

Dr. Yolangel Hernandez Suarez, vice president and chief medical officer,
care delivery at Humana said: “As a health care company, we’re committed
to helping aging Americans defy stereotypes and take steps to achieve
their best health. That’s why it’s important to note that, according to
our findings, seniors who report being optimistic about the aging
process also report better health. As a Boomer myself, I can tell you
that being optimistic about my future helps me make healthier choices
every day.”

Key findings surrounding both studies will be showcased at The
Atlantic Live!
New Old Age conference today in New York City. The
event will feature the foremost experts of aging in America spanning
entertainment, media, academia and business to examine the state of
aging and its impact in society. Both Humana and USC will lead
individual discussions to explore the findings in greater detail, which
will be available to watch during The New Old Age’s livestream

About the Humana Quantitative Analysis

This survey includes 2,035 responses from U.S. adults aged 60 and older.
Data weights are based on U.S. Census statistics for age, gender,
geographic region, and race/ethnicity. It was conducted between August 4
– 21, 2016, and was designed to assess perceptions of the importance of
various traits, characteristics or attributes of people as they age,
then to have respondents rate themselves against the same attributes.
Other data collected include general self-assessment of health, activity
levels and perception of aging in popular culture.

About the USC Film Study

USC conducted a secondary analysis of the Media, Diversity, & Social
Change Initiative’s yearly report profiling every speaking or named
character on screen across a variety of measures (e.g., gender,
race/ethnicity, LGBT, disability). Using this database, the researchers
quantitatively analyzed attributes of each character 60 years of age or
older on screen (n=448) across the 100 most popular domestic movies of
2015. To determine age, the evaluators sorted each character into one of
five age categories: child (0-5), elementary schooler (6-12), teen
(13-20), young adult (21-39), middle aged (40-64), and elderly (65 or

About Humana

Humana Inc., headquartered in Louisville, Ky., is a leading health and
well-being company focused on making it easy for people to achieve their
best health with clinical excellence through coordinated care. The
company’s strategy integrates care delivery, the member experience, and
clinical and consumer insights to encourage engagement, behavior change,
proactive clinical outreach and wellness for the millions of people we
serve across the country.

More information regarding Humana is available to investors via the
Investor Relations page of the company’s web site at,
including copies of:

  • Annual reports to stockholders
  • Securities and Exchange Commission filings
  • Most recent investor conference presentations
  • Quarterly earnings news releases
  • Calendar of events
  • Corporate Governance information

About USC Annenberg Media, Diversity, & Social
Change Initiative

The Media Diversity & Social Change Initiative (MDSCI) at USC’s
Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism is a leading think
tank studying diversity in entertainment through original and sponsored
research. MDSCI findings create valuable and sought after research based
solutions that advance equality in entertainment. Dr. Stacy L. Smith is
the Founder and Director of the MDSCI. Dr. Smith and the MDSCI examine
gender, race/ethnicity, LGBT, and disability on screen and gender and
race/ethnicity behind the camera in cinematic content as well as
barriers and opportunities facing women and people of color in the
entertainment industry. The MDSCI also conducts economic analyses
related to diversity and the financial performance of films. In 2015,
Dr. Smith was named the #1 Most Influential Person in Los Angeles by LA
Weekly. Dr. Smith has written more than 100 journal articles, book
chapters, and reports on content patterns and effects of the media. In
terms of the popular press, Dr. Smith’s research has been written about
in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Newsweek, The
Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and NPR. She has a co-edited essay in Maria
Shriver’s book, A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything (2009). Dr. Smith
and the MDSCI’s most recent research reports include an analysis of 800
top-grossing films, the Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in
Entertainment (CARD) and a series of landmark studies with Sundance
Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles. To learn more, visit
or follow on Twitter @MDSCInitiative.

About the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

Located in Los Angeles at the University
of Southern California
, the Annenberg
School for Communication and Journalism
is a national leader in
education and scholarship in the fields of communication, journalism,
public diplomacy and public relations. With an enrollment of more than
2,200 students, USC Annenberg offers doctoral, graduate and
undergraduate degree programs, as well as continuing development
programs for working professionals, across a broad scope of academic
inquiry. The school’s comprehensive curriculum emphasizes the core
skills of leadership, innovation, service and entrepreneurship and draws
upon the resources of a networked university in a global urban
environment. Based at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and
Journalism in the heart of Los Angeles, the USC Center for Public
Relations (CPR) is
truly at the center of one of the world’s most dynamic professions. Our
mission is to connect corporations, agencies, academics and students to
define the future of our industry and to develop those who will shape it.


Humana Corporate Communications
Mark Mathis, 312-441-5010