The Grumpy Old People Stereotype

The term grumpy is often used when someone describes older people, especially older men. When an old person is irritable, people often don’t ask why but instead conclude that it’s because they are old. This conclusion is based on an idea that all older people are irritable. Which prompts a question: Will you be more irritable in your old age if you already are in your 30s? Many people wonder whether personality changes with age. This question is one that also interests scientists, and many studies are working on discovering just how our personality changes with age. Most of them agree on one thing. People don’t get grumpy with time. The truth is entirely on the opposite end of the spectrum.

The Big Five

If you are not into psychology, you probably haven’t heard of the term ‘’the big five.’’ Most studies in contemporary psychology revolve around this term. According to these psychology studies, the big five are extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism.

The Grumpy Old People Stereotype



This term, according to studies, is used for measurement of expressiveness, excitability, or sociability.


Psychologists use this term to measure traits such as affection, trust, altruism, or kindness.


Insight and imagination are covered by openness. More specifically, it’s used to measure one’s openness towards new relationships. Middle-aged and elderly people usually have lower scores compared to their younger counterparts.


Impulse control, organization, goal-setting, and thoughtfulness are included in this term.


Most types of emotional instability are measured with this term. It includes anxiety and moodiness, together with many other types of emotional instability.

Let’s Look at the Studies

According to a study from NIH (National Institutes of Health), 75% of our personality traits will change as we grow older than 65. This proves that not only our personality changes with age, it varies quite a lot. Research conducted by the American Psychological Association showed that most traits named in the big five change through our life starting in our 30s and on up to our old age. But unlike the common belief, they don’t change for the worse but for the better. This means that people don’t become grumpy with time.

This prompts the question, where from does this belief comes from? Well, a trait that changes for the worse with old age is openness. Old people are generally less prone to forming new relationships. They also lose the desire to explore and have new experiences, and this is where from the idea of grumpy old men comes from. One thing that this points to is that as we get older, we choose to spend more time with the people we already know rather than look for new relationships.

More Studies

NIH also conducted a global study on this subject and found out one interesting thing. The stereotype that young people are impatient while old ones are not flexible is present all across the globe in all cultures. In the United States, these stereotypes are exaggerated. Because of this, while it’s true that our personality does changes with time, it does not reach extreme changes.

All studies on our personality reach the same conclusion. While it’s true that changes will occur, they are not a consequence of our age but more of our life experience. It is also important to note that people who have Alzheimer’s or some other type of dementia will experience personality changes because of their disease.


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