A stroll through the greeting card aisle of many dime stores reveals Americans’ beliefs about aging. The cards clearly convey the widely held belief that as the years tick by, people not only get weaker and slower, they also get crankier and more close-minded. In short, “[Americans] think that old people get as rigid as their arteries,” says Nicholas L. Danigelis, a sociologist at the University of Vermont.

Yet in a recent study published in the October 2007 American Sociological Review,...

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