Thank You For Being a Friend. The “Golden Girls” as a media model of successful aging


      Although Americans older than 65 demonstrate an expanding demographic group, they are underrepresented on popular media outlets such as television and movies1-3. Furthermore, older Americans are often portrayed in a negative or derogatory light1,3. Women in particular are portrayed as more passive, sickly, unintelligent, and socially isolated than their male counterparts2. These negative stereotypes of aging are in stark contrast to the factors associated with successful aging as described in the scientific literature4-7. The television show “The Golden Girls” (1985-1992) broke many of the stereotypes previously seen on television. The show was a 30 minute comedy that displayed four older age main characters living together in a house. They were portrayed as independent, active, and even sexy1,2, a notion that prior to the 1980's had not been explored in this demographic2. These factors more closely align with previous studies that have focused on successful aging. Here the characteristics of the main characters and overarching themes of the television show are compared to factors of healthy aging.


      A review of the literature yielded many articles that explored factors associated with successful or healthy aging. Studies that included qualitative and quantitative measures of successful aging were included for analysis4,5,7. One article included a meta analysis of 28 quantitative studies6. Factors correlated with successful aging were compiled to determine main themes. These themes were compared to features of the television show “The Golden Girls.”


      The main predictors studied in the literature most associated with successful aging included a) absence of disability/or decline in physical functioning, b) cognitive functioning, c) perception of life-satisfaction d) social or productive (including exercise) activity, e) primary support and f) mental well being. These predictors relate to many characteristics of the television show. The four characters on the show; Sophia, Dorothy, Rose and Blanche are displayed as capable of their own ADL's and IADL's, and have preserved cognitive functioning. Each character engages in storytelling as a means of sharing prior experiences and providing advice and this is an overarching theme of each episode and demonstrates a perception of life satisfaction and well being. Each character is also involved social or productive activity. More detailed examples of these themes in relation to specific characters and episodes will be detailed on the poster. Demonstrated weaknesses of “Golden Girls” as a model for aging will also be discussed.


      Most portrayals of older Americans on television have focused on negative stereotypes and few have focused on the more positive aspects of aging. The television show “The Golden Girls” has provided a positive example of successful aging as compared to scientific predictors. Additional positive portrayals of aging are also displayed on the television show that have not been studied in the literature including healthy sexuality and healthy peer relationships. Limitations of this television model for aging include underemphasis of age related physical disease, and socioeconomic issues; factors which commonly affect older adults. Additional study on the effect positive modeling of healthy behaviors through a television media can be potentially helpful to reduce ageism and sexism against older generations while promoting healthier behaviors in this age group. (1) Bell J. In search of a Discourse on Aging: The Elderly on Television. The Gerontologist 1992; 32: 305-311. (2) Vernon JA, Williams JA, Phillips T, Wilson J. Media Stereotyping: A comparison of the way Elderly Women and Men are Portrayed on Prime-Time Television. Journal of Women and Aging 1990;2: 55-68. (3) Harwood J. (2007) Chapter 8; Mass Communication Portrayals of Older Adults. Understanding Communication and Aging. 149-176. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE publications. (4) Reichstadt R, Sengupta G, Depp CA, Palinkas LA, Jeste DV. Older Adults' Perspective on Successful Aging: Qualitative Interviews. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 2010; 18 (7): 567-575. (5) Jeste DV et al. Association between Older Age and More Successful Aging: Critical Role of Resilience and Depression. American Journal of Psychiatry. 2013; 170: 188-196. (6) Depp CA, Jeste DV. Definitions and Predictors of Successful Aging: A Comprehensive Review of Larger Quantitative Studies. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 2006; 14:6-20. (7) Strawbridge WJ, Cohen RD, Shema SJ, Kaplan GA. Successful Aging: Predictors and Associated Activities. American Journal of Epidemiology. 1996; 144(2): 135-141.