There is no denying that in Western society, youth is valued. It is estimated that in 2008, more than £16 billion was spent on anti-aging products the United Kingdom. In 2006, Americans spent over $45 billion on cosmetics, plastic surgery, and hormone therapy. Despite this massive effort to combat aging, there is little research on the social consequences of attempting to look younger.
Psychological scientists Alexander Schoemann and Nylar Branscombe (University of Kansas, Kansas, USA) investigated how young adults evaluate older adults who attempt to make themselves look younger. Most research has been done on in-group-out-group interactions. But age is a unique social category because members of a socially valued group (younger adults) will eventually become members of the other, devalued group (older adults).
In three experiments, the researchers evaluated young adults’ feelings towards the descriptions of two individuals: an adult who was trying to look younger and an adult who was not. Older adults who tried to turn back the clock, regardless of sex, were viewed negatively by young adults. Plus, older adults who were closer in age to the younger adults were perceived as more of a threat. For example, the researchers found that individuals in their thirties who attempt to look younger can be perceived as a greater threat to the social identity of young adults than would adults in their sixties.
People who want to recapture their youth are spending billions of dollars to conform to beauty standards, but rather than escaping from prejudice and discrimination, they can be perceived as deceitful. Attempting to look younger can not only break the bank, there are social costs as well.
Schoemann, A., & Branscombe, N. (2011). Looking young for your age: Perceptions of anti-aging actions European Journal of Social Psychology, 41 (1), 86-95 DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.738