Tag Archives: Ageism

Age, Gender, and Veganism

In a publication authored with my colleague Alexus Lizardi, Older, Greener, and Wiser: Charting the Experiences of Older Women in the American Vegan Movement, we offer the first exploratory research on an underserved demographic: older vegan women. Minimal data is available on this group–most of it is relegated to subscriber feedback reported by The Vegan Society. 

Interestingly, our sample had not put much thought into what it means to be older and vegan. Some noted that they were aware of how older vegans are objectified in the movement if they were seen to “age well.” In other words, age is leveraged to promote veganism as a means to beat aging. For the average person who ages normally, they may find themselves invisibilized. Indeed, the vegan and vegetarian movement has actively dismissed key leaders thought to sully the movement with their prolonged illness and premature death (like founder of the American Vegan Society Sylvester Graham and founder of the British Vegetarian Society William Cowherd). 

Otherwise, our respondents noted that being older granted them a degree of confidence in their political choices. This is an important finding given the movement’s focus on young people and its concern with recidivism (many young people will revert to nonveganism should they lack social supports). Older people are more resolved in their decisions and are less swayed by social pressures. 

This could sometimes backfire. A few of our respondents felt they were rather isolated given their hesitancy to associate with non-vegans who they felt were hostile to their lifestyle. Older folks in general risk isolation as they age, leading us to consider whether older vegans were doubly burdened in this respect.

Some respondents also expressed concern with accessing medical professionals who took veganism seriously. As many of our participants were middle-class and living in the New York area, they were relatively privileged in this respect, but it was clear that more marginalized older vegans could find difficulty in this regard.

Lastly, many of our respondents noted that their gender definitely informed their veganism. They reported being compelled by the horrors of dairy production, something they could empathize with given their own reproductive journeys as female-bodied persons. We consider whether this awareness is due to the popularity of Carol Adams’ vegan feminist work in the movement. It is likely that greater acknowledgement of aging issues in the vegan community might increase activist consciousness to the unique challenges facing older folks in a relatively ageist society.


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Readers can learn more about the politics of vegan feminism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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The Social Psychology of Veganism – Socioemotional Selectivity Theory

Age (and Time Perception) Matters

According to socioemotional selectivity theory, as people age, their social goals shift considerably. For younger people who have a perception that there is much time ahead, they focus on knowledge-related goals. For older people with a perception that time is short, they tend to focus on emotional goals.

In other words, if your whole life is ahead of you, you may want to focus on personal growth, but if your life is coming to a close, you probably want to revel in ties with friends, family, and community with your remaining time. Presumably, connections with other animals would be included among these emotional goals.

These differing motivations require differing persuasion strategies. Although the Western vegan movement is dominated by younger demographics, movement actors could be unnecessarily restricting their reach by overlooking older constituents. Vegan campaigning could be more effective in targeting younger demographics with educational initiatives while targeting older demographics with compassion-based, emotional appeals.

However, time perception is relative. Younger persons could be primed to perceive that life is short, while older people could be primed to consider that there is much life yet to live. Thus, vegan activists can retain some ability to manipulate their audiences to suit a chosen campaign.

Overcoming Ageism in Vegan Campaigns

This research demonstrates that intersectional awareness is essential to the manufacture of effective vegan outreach. A one-size-fits-all campaign is unlikely to fully capitalize on a diversity of social and psychological positions that folks occupy according to their age, status, and health.

Social psychologists have noted that older people tend to be more ingrained in their ways and are less likely to pursue attitudinal and behavioral shifts (this is why social movements target college-age students). If social movements are not tailoring their strategies to accommodate diversity in life course positionality, the likelihood of persuading olders is even less. As the researchers argue, “[…] time perception is integral to human motivation […]” (Carstensen et al. 1999). Olders should not be excluded from campaigning, but activists do have a responsibility to acknowledge variations in social psychological responsiveness.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Target people who feel they have a lot of living to do with educational campaigns
  • Target people who feel they have limited time left on earth with emotional campaigns
  • Prime audiences, regardless of age, to perceive time as limited or abundant as appropriate to improve efficacy

References

Carstensen, L, D. Isaacowitz, and S. Charles. 1999. “Taking Time Seriously: A Theory of Socioemotional Selectivity.” American Psychologist 54 (3): 165-181.


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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The Social Psychology of Veganism – Age

Diversity in the activist’s audience means that there will be no one-size-fits-all tactic. This essay examines how changes in an individual’s lifespan can shape their receptiveness to a vegan message.

For the most part, attitudes are generational (Sears 1976). Belief systems formed in youth tend to hold constant throughout an individual’s life. Research supports that attitudes are most malleable in one’s teens and early twenties (Krosnick, J. and D. Alwin 1989). Older individuals are certainly not immune to cultural shifts and can experience liberal attitude change as well (Danigelis and Cutler 1991), but it will be a trickier task.

This explains why many vegan outreach organizations target college students. Given that resources are so limited, it makes sense to focus efforts on a younger audience. This is not to say that efforts would be lost on other audiences, but if the choice must be made between leafleting on a college campus and a community center, the college campus would probably extract a greater return.

The fact that cultural shifts can influence those who are more resistant to attitude change is also promising. For instance, research finds that those who were already past their twenties during the civil rights era were still measurably less conservative. In other words, older people may have missed the wave, but the societal changes that resulted had at least some impact on most everyone. Focusing on the younger population will therefore have a direct impact on that younger audience, but it should have an indirect impact on older individuals as well.

Finally, to completely exclude older persons would be problematic given that such a strategy relies on inaccurate stereotypes of older persons as set in their ways and close-minded. Because veganism entails a healthful plant-based diet, older persons could benefit greatly from vegan outreach. The mental health gains associated with a more just relationship with other animals would also be a positive asset. Outreach strategies that are too exclusive risk replicating inequality. Veganism should be made available to everyone.

 

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Target teens and young adults
  • Be mindful of ageism and do not stereotype or exclude older audiences

References

Danigelis, N. and S. Cutler.  1991.  “An Inter-Cohort Comparison of Changes in Racial Attitudes.”  Research on Aging 13 (3):  383-404.

Krosnick, J. and D. Alwin.  1989.  “Aging and Susceptibility to Attitude Change.”  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 57:  416-425.

Sears, D.  Life Stage Effects Upon Attitude Change, Especially Among the Elderly.  Manuscript prepared for Workshop on the Elderly of the Future, Committee on Aging, National Research Council, Annapolis, MD, May 3-5.

This essay was originally published with The Examiner in 2012.


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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