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Breaking the Age Code

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Breaking the Age Code

How Your Beliefs About Aging Determine How Long and Well You Live

William Morrow,

15 min read
8 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Negative societal stereotypes about aging have a profound influence on your experience of aging.

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  • Analytical
  • Engaging
  • Inspiring


People are living longer than ever before, yet ageism is rampant, says Yale psychology professor Becca Levy. After researching the psychosocial factors influencing aging, Levy concludes that your unconscious biases, based on societal age stereotypes, can profoundly affect your experience of aging and the physiological and cognitive challenges you associate with it. When older people replace negative views about aging with a more positive attitude toward aging, they enjoy a slew of positive health benefits – such as improved memory – and can add years to their lives. Levy urges you to liberate yourself from ageism and fight it on a collective level.


The cultural biases you hold about aging affect your experience of growing older.

On Japan’s Respect for the Aged Day, or Keiro No Hi, the nation’s aging population defies stereotypes: Some older adults celebrate by learning a musical instrument, while others might pick up a comic book featuring a love story between older adults. After a visit to Japan, Yale researcher Becca Levy began studying the psychosocial factors influencing aging. She found that societally constructed beliefs surrounding aging cause or exacerbate many of the physiological and cognitive challenges Westerners associate with aging.

Many of the health issues and behaviors people associate with getting older reflect cultural biases. For example, health professionals hold the stereotype that it’s normal for older people to experience depression. But depression needn’t be part of the aging experience.

Levy’s framework, “stereotype embodiment theory” (SET) describes how aging stereotypes can negatively or positively affect your health. You internalize cultural views about aging beginning in childhood. These age beliefs can operate unconsciously. ...

About the Author

Yale professor of public health and psychology Becca Levy is a world expert on the psychology of successful aging and an affiliated faculty member at Yale’s Institute for Global Health.

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