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UW Stout: Research finds lack of articles on aging in family journals
12/5/2017

A research project on information about aging was conducted by UW-Stout Associate Professor Amanda Barnett, left, and student Bethany Tennison, along with three other students.

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 Relations?

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.

Amanda Barnett presents UW-Stout’s research project in November at the National Council on Family Relations conference in Orlando, Fla.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.

Team approach

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 Human Sciences.

“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.”
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