Fountain of Youth (1546) by Lucas Cranach, the Elder Reprint permission by Staatliche Museen Berlin

How we can ensure that various senior citizens—those who belong to the “younger old” category (50-59, 60-69, 70-79) and those who belong to the older old (80+ years) category; those who are living together or alone; those who are full of vitality or fragility—can identify with images representing themselves so they continue to have access to information sources in a society that is increasingly digital?

A case study conducted by Loos (2013) in the Netherlands collected the images of older people from the websites of three senior citizens’ organizations in the Netherlands to gain insight into the ways these organizations represent their members.  The study focused on the role of age (younger old, older old), as well as the role of gender, civil status and health conditions.

Method: A variety of stock photos were presented to older persons with different pensions, varying income levels, and differences in health and housing. Researchers asked 31 diverse older respondents if they could identify with the photos. For example, can an old man living alone in bad health identify identify with stock photo of healthy-looking couple drinking a cocktail?


The depiction of older people alone and older people together appeared to be reasonably balanced on both websites (respectively 53.7% and 44.3%). On the third website, photos of older people alone were a minority (30%). The most common category of pictures on the third website was that of the ‘older woman and man as a couple’ (25%). On the other two sites, the common theme was a ‘man alone’ (28% and 25 % respectively). On all three websites the older people were unanimously enjoying the ‘third age’ (e.g., practicing sports or leisurely cycling) and the ‘fourth age’ was absent.

Organizations like the three surveyed may be interested in the outcomes of this research. If these organizations wish to be as inclusive as possible, they should take into account the diversity of ways the heterogeneous group of older people identify with stock photos.

See E.F. Loos, (2018). The organizational use of online stock photos: The impact of representing senior citizens as eternally youthful. Human Technology, 14(3), 366–381, for the results.


Gregor, P., Newell, A. F., Zajicek, M. (2002). Designing for dynamic diversity – interfaces for older people. In J. A. Jacko (Eds.), ASSETS 2002 The Fifth International ACM Conference on Assistive Technologies (pp. 151-156) Edinburgh, Scotland, 8-10 July.

Loos, E. F. (2013). Designing for dynamic diversity: Representing various senior citizens in digital information sources. Observatorio (OBS*) Journal, 7(1), 21-45.

Loos, E. F., & Ivan, L. (2018). Visual Ageism in the Media. In: L. Ayalon & C. Tesch-Roemer (Eds.), Contemporary aspects on ageism (pp. 163-176). Berlin: Springer.

Eugène Loos, Utrecht University


Research Area:
Critical Mediations

ACT Partner:
Utrecht University

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