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New Research: Inaccurate Portrayals of Seniors May be Harmful

Depictions of aging Americans as disengaged from technology and ridiculed for their health have the potential to reduce optimism, a key indicator of healthy aging


Monday, January 22, 2018 11:03 am EST



Public Company Information:

"Our research shows that staying optimistic is vital to the perceived physical and mental health of seniors, and films may be negatively impacting their health by portraying seniors in demeaning or inaccurate ways."

LOUISVILLE, Ky.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Popular culture – and film in particular – continues to misrepresent seniors age 60 and over, inaccurately portraying the group in ways that may adversely affect how they view themselves and their health, according to new research.

The findings are part of a growing body of work from a partnership between Humana Inc. (NYSE: HUM) and the University of Southern California’s (USC) Annenberg Inclusion Initiative to determine the effects negative portrayals of seniors on film may have on aging adults in America. Dr. Stacy L. Smith, director of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, led the film portion of the research, which analyzed how seniors age 60 and over are portrayed in the 100 top-grossing films from 2016.

Out of the 100 films analyzed by USC Annenberg, 57 films featured a leading or supporting senior character. Of those 57 films, 44 percent featured ageist comments, with characters being referred to in demeaning ways, such as “old and decrepit,” “grumpy old rat,” or “crazy old man.” Further, a majority of the films with ageist comments (56 percent) included negative references regarding the health of seniors, including remarks about mental well-being, memory and hearing.

“There has been virtually no progress in the volume of senior representation in the top-grossing films in the past year,” said Dr. Smith. “As Hollywood embraces representation of other diverse groups, it’s imperative for aging Americans to be included in the industry’s focus on inclusion.”

The study also found that a majority of seniors in films are portrayed uncharacteristically – disengaged with technology and uninterested in travel, a notion debunked by Humana’s research, which found the opposite to be true.

According to Humana, the majority of aging Americans – 89 percent – are using computer technology, including the internet, on a weekly basis. On screen, only 41 percent of senior characters engaged with technology.

Humana’s research also found that seniors are active travelers, with 63 percent traveling at least once a year. According to USC Annenberg’s analysis, only 22.6 percent of seniors portrayed on film were shown traveling.

“As aging Americans continue to see these inaccurate depictions of themselves onscreen, their view of life past the age of 60 may begin to feel scary or ominous,” said Dr. Yolangel Hernandez-Suarez, vice president and chief medical officer, care delivery at Humana. “Our research shows that staying optimistic is vital to the perceived physical and mental health of seniors, and films may be negatively impacting their health by portraying seniors in demeaning or inaccurate ways.”

In fact, Humana’s quantitative survey of 2,000 people age 60 or over, found 87 percent of seniors who identify themselves as most optimistic reported their health as good to excellent, while only 44 percent of those who identified themselves as least optimistic reported the same. Additionally, the most optimistic respondents reported nine fewer physically unhealthy and seven fewer mentally unhealthy days per month than their least optimistic counterparts.

Further, 97 percent of the most optimistic seniors cited remaining physically active as a key motivator for maintaining good health, which contradicts depictions of seniors in popular films. Other motivators included enjoying the ability to travel (81 percent) and keeping an active social life (80 percent).

For additional background on Humana and USC Annenberg’s previous research on this topic, please visit: http://press.humana.com/press-release/current-releases/film-study-pop-culture-stereotypes-aging-americans.

About the Humana Quantitative Analysis

The quantitative survey includes 2,000 responses from U.S. adults aged 60 and older. Respondents represent a nationally-representative sample of older adults based on U.S. Census statistics for age, gender, geographic region, and race/ethnicity. It was conducted between August 13-17, 2017, and was designed to assess perceptions of retirement, ageism and what motivates these people to stay healthy as they age. Other data collected include general self-assessment of health, activity levels and perception of aging in popular culture.

About the USC Annenberg Film Study

The USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative used both quantitative and qualitative methods in the study to assess the portrayal of senior characters. For quantitative measures, every speaking or named character on screen was evaluated for measures including gender, race/ethnicity, LGBT status, and age. Following this, a series of measures regarding jobs and health were assessed to catalogue the depiction of characters age 60 and older across these stories. Finally, a qualitative analysis of main (i.e., leading or supporting) senior characters was performed.

About Humana

Humana Inc. is committed to helping our millions of medical and specialty members achieve their best health. Our successful history in care delivery and health plan administration is helping us create a new kind of integrated care with the power to improve health and well-being and lower costs. Our efforts are leading to a better quality of life for people with Medicare, families, individuals, military service personnel, and communities at large.

To accomplish that, we support physicians and other health care professionals as they work to deliver the right care in the right place for their patients, our members. Our range of clinical capabilities, resources and tools – such as in-home care, behavioral health, pharmacy services, data analytics and wellness solutions – combine to produce a simplified experience that makes health care easier to navigate and more effective.

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

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

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.

About USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative

Launched over 10 years ago by Founder/Director Dr. Stacy L. Smith, the Initiative is globally recognized for its valuable and sought after researched-solutions to advance equality in entertainment. The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s 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 Annenberg Inclusion Initiative which launched over ten years ago. Dr. Smith and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative examine gender, race/ethnicity, LGBT status, disability, and age on screen and gender and race/ethnicity behind the camera in cinematic and television content as well as barriers and opportunities facing women and people of color in the entertainment industry. The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative also conducts economic analyses related to diversity and the financial performance of films. In 2015, LA Weekly named Dr. Smith the #1 Most Influential Person in Los Angeles, and she has spoken on research at multiple high-profile engagements ranging from the TED Women stage to the United Nations. Dr. Smith and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative have been featured in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Newsweek, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and NPR, among others. The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s most recent research reports include the Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity (CARD), multiple landmark studies with Sundance Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles and two studies on inclusion on screen and behind the camera across 900 top-grossing films conducted at USC Annenberg. The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative is generously supported by The Annenberg Foundation, The Harnisch Foundation, Sony Pictures Entertainment, EPiX, Humana, LUNAFEST, The Jacquelyn and Gregory Zehner Foundation, and other individuals. To learn more, visit http://annenberg.usc.edu/aii or follow on Twitter @Inclusionists or on Facebook.


Humana Inc.
Mark Mathis, 312-441-5010
Corporate Communications
Mobile: 630-835-6651

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