Infantilization is the prolonged treatment of one who is not a child, as though they are a child.[1] Studies have shown that an individual, when infantilized, is overwhelmingly likely to feel disrespected. Such individuals may report a sense of transgression akin to dehumanization.


Infantilization is an important concept that was pivotal to maintaining slavery - children of enslaved women would also be enslaved because both belonged to the master. Africans were considered ‘child races’, resulting in subsequent infantilization.[2] When black men respond negatively to “boy,” this is caused by infantilization. Infantilization plays a role in implicit bias, which is a modern effect caused by subjugation, primarily economically, by failing to honor the work and creativity of subjugated populations. Infantilization can be used by propaganda to remove factual contributions from subjugated communities. This is done by individuals who would rather believe something that fits within their belief system than truly hear information as it comes. [3]


Disabled individuals can be infantilized in their interactions with able-bodied people. That can occur alongside other paternalistic behaviours and denies individuals their autonomy. Infantilization is more commonly experienced by people with visible disabilities (e.g. people who have visual impairments).[4] Another specific disability often infantilized is autism, which is viewed as a children’s disorder, with many autism organizations being run by neurotypical parents of autistic children and most charities dedicated to autism focused on children. The extreme focus on children essentially denies the existence of autistic adults within public consciousness, leading to many people unknowingly discriminating against autistic adults.[5]


Older adults

Further information: Elder rights

Infantilization can happen to older adults which leads to denying them autonomy in their care, such as through being excessively controlled or being addressed with baby talk, as if they were a child incapable of understanding complex topics. This leads to a reduced quality of care. From a patient's perspective, this is seen as disrespectful and patronizing. Infantilization can also occur as an aspect of intimate partner violence, as some abusive partners substitute physical violence for psychological abuse to maintain their power.[6]


Further information: Youth rights

When used in reference to teenagers or adolescents, the term typically suggests that teenagers and their potential are underestimated in modern society. It can also be used to describe adolescents being regarded as though they are younger than their actual age.[7] Infantilization may also refer to a process when a child is being treated in a manner appropriate only for younger children.[8] Robert Epstein is a notable critic of the treatment of youth and adolescents, suggesting that many public policymakers and neuroscientists utilize myths about the teenage brain in order to disenfranchise and ultimately infantilize them.[9]

Property law

In property law, infantilization is defined as "the restriction of an individual’s or group’s autonomy based on the failure to recognize and respect their full capacity to reason."[10] When infantilization is coupled with property takeover, the result is a dignity taking.[10] There are several examples of dignity takings, including wage theft from undocumented workers in which the power imbalance allows employers to rob workers of their agency and avenues for redress;[11] the dispossession of property from African Americans in the South Carolina sea islands by predatory tax buyers, who routinely infantilized their victims by overwhelming them with paperwork and timelines to accelerate foreclosures;[12] and the unequal division of matrimonial property in southern Nigeria after divorce that assumes women are less capable of managing property and thus infantilizes them.[13]


Adult women are frequently referred as girls, a term that is inherently infantilizing. [14] Infantilization is such a common feature of sexism that it is one of five dimensions of sexual harassment in a Gender Experiences Questionnaire.[15]

Humanitarian aid can infantilize women who are displaced from their homes by depicting them simply as innocent victims, not as capable individuals with agency. Women refugees may also be depicted as helpless and unwanted.[16]

Fictional female characters have been depicted as "overtly girly" and criticized as contributing to the infantilization of women.[17]

See also


  1. ^ Maude, Ulrika (2011). Beckett and Phenomenology. p. 111. 'to infantilize someone', for instance by treating an adult person as if they were a child
  2. ^ Rollo, Toby (May 2018). "The Color of Childhood: The Role of the Child/Human Binary in the Production of Anti-Black Racism". Journal of Black Studies. 49 (4): 307–329. doi:10.1177/0021934718760769. ISSN 0021-9347. S2CID 148918401. Retrieved 20 October 2022.
  3. ^ Ware, Mark (2013). Handbook of Demonstrations and Activities in the Teaching of Psychology volume 2. p. 281.
  4. ^ Bogart, Kathleen; Dunn, Dana; Nario-Redmond, Michelle; Kemerling, Alexia; Silverman, Arielle (2019). "Hostile, Benevolent, and Ambivalent Ableism: Contemporary Manifestations". Journal of Social Issues. 75 (3): 726. doi:10.1111/josi.12337. S2CID 197736429.
  5. ^ Stevenson, Jennifer L.; Harp, Bev; Gernsbacher, Morton Ann (2011). "Infantilizing Autism". Disability Studies Quarterly. 31 (3): dsq– doi:10.18061/dsq.v31i3.1675. ISSN 1041-5718. PMC 4266457. PMID 25520546.
  6. ^ "Infantilisation among married couples in old age". Slovenian Journal of Psychotherapy. 13 (4): 98–111. 2019. ISSN 1854-9373.
  7. ^ Couture, Pamela (2007). Child Poverty: Love, Justice, and Social Responsibility. p. 199.
  8. ^ Gresham, Mary (1976). "The infantilization of the elderly: A developing concept". Nursing Forum. 15 (2): 195–210. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6198.1976.tb00616.x. PMID 1049435. In Maternal Overprotection, Levy (1957) defines infantilization as that process occurring in childhood whereby certain activities in caring for the child are continued beyond the stage of development when such activities usually occur.
  9. ^ Epstein, Robert (2007). "The Myth of the Teen Brain". Scientific American. 17 (2s): 68–75. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0607-68sp.
  10. ^ a b Atuahene, Bernadette (2016). "Dignity Takings and Dignity Restoration: Creating a New Theoretical Framework for Understanding Involuntary Property Loss and the Remedies Required". Law & Social Inquiry. 41 (4): 796–823. doi:10.1111/lsi.12249. ISSN 1747-4469. S2CID 151377162.
  11. ^ Marzán, Rosado; F, César (2017-11-28). "Dignity Takings and Wage Theft". Rochester, NY. SSRN 3078735. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  12. ^ Kahrl, Andrew (2018-03-06). "Unconscionable: Tax Delinquency Sales as a Form of Dignity Taking". Chicago-Kent Law Review. 92 (3): 905. ISSN 0009-3599.
  13. ^ Diala, Anthony C. (2018). "The shadow of legal pluralism in matrimonial property division outside the courts in Southern Nigeria". African Human Rights Law Journal. 18 (2): 706–731. doi:10.17159/1996-2096/2018/v18n2a13. hdl:10566/4924. ISSN 1996-2096.
  14. ^ Macarthur, Heather Jean (April 16, 2015). When Women are Called "girls": The Effect of Infantilizing Labels on Women's Self-perceptions (Master's). Pennsylvania State University.
  15. ^ Leskinen, Emily A.; Cortina, Lilia M. (March 2014). "Dimensions of Disrespect: Mapping and Measuring Gender Harassment in Organizations". Psychology of Women Quarterly. 38 (1): 107–123. doi:10.1177/0361684313496549. ISSN 0361-6843. S2CID 145666798. Retrieved 21 October 2022.
  16. ^ Manchandra, Rita (2004). "Gender Conflict and Displacement: Contesting 'Infantilisation' of Forced Migrant Women". Economic and Political Weekly. 39 (37): 4179–4186. JSTOR 4415535. Retrieved 10 September 2022.
  17. ^ Weissmann, Elke; Thornham, Helen (2013). Renewing Feminisms: Radical Narratives, Fantasies and Futures in Media Studies. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 231. ISBN 9780857734075. Retrieved 10 September 2022.