Combating Ageism: How Successful is Successful Aging?

The concept of successful aging based on high level of physical cognitive functioning has become dominant in Gerontology since the 1990’s. This article indicates the concept may contribute to negative perception of aging (Ageism) and make older people feel as if they are personally responsible for failing to achieve the restrictive criteria for aging successfully. 


To explore the extent to which the successful aging discourse has accomplished Rowe and Kahn’s (1998) goal of combating ageism by (a) eradicating the narrative of decline and burden, and highlighting the positive aspects of aging; and (b) emphasizing individuals’ ability to age successfully. To investigate this, I first situate ageism in a framework of age relations.

Design and Methods:

Using a qualitative approach, I analyze data generated from semistructured, in-depth interviews conducted among a diverse sample of 19 middle-aged men and women. Respondents were asked about what successful aging means to them, as well as their perceptions of their own aging, and old age.


Respondents are familiar with the notion of successful aging, and they believe that they can and should achieve this. However, rather than easing ageism, they experience the mandate to age successfully as a source of tension as they simultaneously realize that it is outside their control. They express continued fears of aging; and they implicitly blame themselves or others who fail to age successfully. Their comments suggest that, rather than supplanting the discourse of decline, the successful aging narrative coexists with it.

– The Gerontologist

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