Modern attitudes toward older adults in the aging world: A cross-cultural meta-analysis

Michael S. North, Susan T. Fiske

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

335 Scopus citations


Prevailing beliefs suggest that Eastern cultures hold older adults in higher esteem than Western cultures do, due to stronger collectivist traditions of filial piety. However, in modern, industrialized societies, the strain presented by dramatic rises in population aging potentially threatens traditional cultural expectations. Addressing these competing hypotheses, a literature search located 37 eligible papers, comprising samples from 23 countries and 21,093 total participants, directly comparing Easterners and Westerners (as classified per U.N. conventions) in their attitudes toward aging and the aged. Contradicting conventional wisdom, a random-effects meta-analysis on these articles found such evaluations to be more negative in the East overall (standardized mean difference = -0.31). High heterogeneity in study comparisons suggested the presence of moderators; indeed, geographical region emerged as a significant moderating factor, with the strongest levels of senior derogation emerging in East Asia (compared with South and Southeast Asia) and non-Anglophone Europe (compared with North American and Anglophone Western regions). At the country level, multiple-moderator meta-regression analysis confirmed recent rises in population aging to significantly predict negative elder attitudes, controlling for industrialization per se over the same time period. Unexpectedly, these analyses also found that cultural individualism significantly predicted relative positivity-suggesting that, for generating elder respect within rapidly aging societies, collectivist traditions may backfire. The findings suggest the importance of demographic challenges in shaping modern attitudes toward elders-presenting considerations for future research in ageism, cross-cultural psychology, and even economic development, as societies across the globe accommodate unprecedented numbers of older citizens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)993-1021
Number of pages29
JournalPsychological Bulletin
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • Attitudes toward older adults
  • Cross-cultural
  • East-west
  • Intergenerational tension
  • Population aging


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