Attention to aging is lacking in family journals, research finds
December 5, 2017
A team of four University of Wisconsin-Stout students and a
professor recently posed a research question that, to the casual observer,
might not sound very promising: In the last 20 years, how much and what kind of
research on aging has been published by the National Council on Family
Given that the NCFR is the nation’s oldest professional
association focused on family research, practice and education, articles on
aging in its four journals seemingly should be commonplace. NCFR has members
from 50 states and 35 countries.
Some eyes were opened, however, when Associate Professor
Amanda Barnett presented the research, “Content
Analysis of Articles on Aging issues in Main NCFR Publications from 1996 to 2016,”
in November at the NCFR conference in Orlando, Fla.
The UW-Stout study found that just 9 percent of articles in
NCFR publications dealt with issues on aging and family life, concluding that
the number “has not increased in response to longer life expectancies and the
aging baby boom generation.”
In the U.S., the number of people 65 and older is expected
to increase 21 percent by 2050.
“We noticed there are very few articles on aging, and that’s
crazy because everybody goes through the process,” student researcher Bethany
Tennison said. “I think people were really surprised at what we found.”
Tennison, of Rockford, Ill., is a senior majoring in human
development and family studies. She has worked part time at a nursing home
since age 16, and she hopes to become a nursing home administrator. She also
has earned a certificate in gerontology from UW-Stout.
“Our research told me that people aren’t educated on this
issue, and I feel they need to be. Aging is not something people talk about,”
said Tennison, who plans to pursue a master’s degree in human services at
Judson University in Elgin, Ill.
The project’s quantitative analysis — 321 articles broken
down by year and publication — coincided with valuable qualitative analysis of
the types of aging issues the article addressed. For example, just six articles
over the two decades dealt with eldercare programs and government policy and
just one with sexual health related to aging.
The study suggests that NCFR’s journals publish not just
more research on aging but a wider range of articles; consider expanding family
life education practices to include older adults and families; and do more
research on various stages of aging other than focusing on people 65 and older.
The study also raises the question of whether ageism — or
“deeply ingrained attitudes toward aging” — could be a factor in the lack of
articles on aging in the journals.
“Ageism helps to explain why family scientists are less
likely to study aging compared to issues impacting young children and families
and that the few manuscripts on aging and family life submitted to NCFR may
have an increased likelihood of being dismissed in the peer-review and
editorial process. NCFR editors, reviewers, and members may be unintentional or
intentional conduits of ageism,” the study said.
The publications include the Journal of Marriage and Family;
Family Relations; Journal of Family Theory and Review; and NCFR Report.
“The research was well-received at the national conference,”
Barnett said. “I am particularly proud of this work because it highlights the
actual contributions that the family science field has made over the last two
decades, as well as the future contributions that are needed to more fully
understand aging and family life in the years to come.”
Barnett said the research manuscript is being worked on and
will be submitted for possible publication in one of the NCFR journals.
Along with Barnett and Tennison, three UW-Stout Graduate
School students, who graduated in May, conducted the research during the
2016-17 academic year.
They are Krysti Deines, of Menomonie, clinical mental health
counseling; Jamie Fredrickson, of St. Francis, marriage and family therapy; and
Amanda Schield, of Medford; clinical mental health counseling.
Tennison interviewed for a position as a research assistant
on the project. She worked about five hours a week on it, teaming with the
three graduate students. Tennison did some of the writing for the report and oversaw
charts and graphs.
“I really learned the research process, which will
definitely help me in my career,” Tennison said.
The project received funding from the Student Research
Support Initiative and from the College of Education, Hospitality, Health and
“This project would not have been possible without my
co-authors, who were student research assistants,” Barnett said. “They were
professional, hard-working, curious and had great attention for detail that
made this research a success. We’re very thankful for the Student Research
Support Initiative from our college that made this collaboration possible.”
research project on information about aging was conducted by UW-Stout Associate
Professor Amanda Barnett, left, and student Bethany Tennison, along with three
Barnett presents UW-Stout’s research project in November at the National
Council on Family Relations conference in Orlando, Fla.