Capital Ideas Blog

When it comes to stereotypes, age matters

By Alice G. Walton

From: Blog

Despite how far we’ve come in our attitudes about race, we’re still a little backwards in some respects. Minorities are filling bigger and bigger roles in politics and other areas, but we still hear about far too many cases of racial profiling. People still seem to carry around antiquated racial stereotypes, and a recent study by Chicago Booth’s Devin G. Pope finds that when it comes to these stereotypes, there’s another variable at play: Age.

In the study, Pope and his colleagues asked white participants to consider four different classroom setups. One was made up of African-American students from pre-K to fifth grade, and another was made up of white students of the same age range. The other two were made up of either African-American or white children in grades 6–12. The participants were asked how society (not themselves) might view the classrooms, and whether they would attach traits like “reliable, lazy, hard-working, intelligent, hostile, motivated, dumb, good-natured, and irresponsible” to the classes. Afterwards, each person was asked to which class they would donate $50, either giving it all to one or splitting it between two.

It turned out that the negative characteristics were more likely to be assigned to the African-American classrooms—and to older children of either ethnicity. But what was really interesting was that there was a larger age-race interaction, or “age penalty,” for African-American children: That is, the negative stereotypes grew much more as the African-American kids aged, compared to the white kids. The team also found that people were more likely to give money to the younger class of African-American kids than anyone else—but just like before, this fell off with age more quickly than it did for the white kids.

The results suggest that as children age, particularly African-American children, they become somehow less desirable and more stereotypical. Interestingly, the authors point out that this phenomenon seems to reverse itself at the other end of the age spectrum, where elderly African-American people are rated as less “angry” than adult African-Americans. The team urges people who are fundraising for minorities to frame their efforts as benefitting younger children, in order to “disarm” the old stereotypes. During the giving season, if you’re trying to raise money for kids of different ethnic backgrounds, this advice might be something to think about. 


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