Starting Points: A Sociological Journey 22/10/2012 8:25:00 PM
Cultural meanings are specific to times and places, which in effect makes
it more difficult for different generations to understand each other.
There is no upper limit for marriage, only a marriage floor.
In the US and Canada drinking ages are different although it
does not make much difference it all depends on the society.
Therefore age related policies are constantly changing with the
change in behavior and attitudes within society.
Age leads to prejudices and stereotyping.
We give explanations for peoples behavior based on their age.
o Young teens = headstrong and irrational
o Elderly = technologically dumb and sickly
Ways of looking at Age Groups
One functionalist theory called disengagement theory by Elaine Cumming
and William Henry states that the elderly begin to give up their positions
in society because they are mentally and physically unable to keep up
with the younger and more energetic generation. However this is a good
thing to society because it allows it to function efficiently.
Retirement for example, is necessary because it allows the individual to
give up his position in the social hierchy to a younger one with possibly
new innovative ideas than the older generation. This allows society to
increase their competition globally.
Critical theorist believe that ageism is not beneficial to society but rather
a way for people between the ages of 20 -60 to benefit from it.
They argue that the disengagement theory is cold and simplistic and
depicts humans as merely robots. Critical theorist state that most elderly people want to keep their
jobs and stay active however some are forced to retire
They also state that different age groups compete against each other.
Often this leads to the needs of the elderly and the youth to be ignored
because the interest of the middle age/ decision makers is what counts.
There is this preconception in society that the elderly are financially
Interested in looking at how the elderly are symbolized in society and
perform aging in our society.
They emphasize that age is simply a state of mind that is created by
labels in society.
To be happy as we grow old is to refuse the idea of being
disabled as we get older.
The activity theory by Havighurst and Albrecht, opposed to the
disengagement theory, states that as people age they take on new roles
instead of readily giving them up. It is said that people who become more
active are more successful.
On the other hand, other symbolic interactionists focus on the media and
how women slowly disappear as they age. It is more acceptable for men
to be lead actors as they grow old but not for women. This is just another
example of the double standard around sex and romance that
Women age differently than men, in the sense that their loss of youth has
a greater impact on them than men. Women dread getting older more
than men would. As women grow older, because of their dependence on their spouse(male)
they usually have a hard time living with a meager income and exhaust
savings. In addition, women as they grow older gain more domestic
duties and social responsibilities than men.
Womens role in their family as caregivers removes them from the
workforce and thus are more vulnerable to become poor after retirement.
This contributes to the Feminization of poverty.
Classic Studies: Centuries of Childhood
In Philippe Aries book Centuries of Childhood, he explains that childhood
as we know it is a cultural invention that began in late medieval Europe
and was perfected in industrial times.
Before the industrial times kids were subject to mature faster and take on
adult like roles at an earlier stage.
Poor kids earned a living by working with adults
Some served the military
Children in school were not divided by age.
Children during the 16 Century were viewed as pets, toys or sources of
amusement for parents. Thats why a clear separation was made between
children and adults which affects the growth in children schooling and
This in effect can be seen in how modern day children are entirely isolated
from the adult world for about 15 to 25 years creating a hard transition
into this unknown way of life.
The growth of education has extended the period of childhood in which
they are marginalized, behave irresponsibly and are economically
Adolescence was socially constructed as well based on the hormonal
changes and the emergence of secondary sexual characteristics. Often
labeled as emotionally volatile. These two groups create an age group with particular characteristics that
are often questioned by sociologist. With and increase in longevity we
may create other age group as seen now with the terms young adults.
Youth: A Time of Risk-taking
The youth group unlike others are mostly known for their risky behavior.
This could be bad in the sense that they often break rules and get into
trouble more often the adults do.
Delinquency as mentioned by David Matza in Delinquency and Drift is an
example of risky behavior in which people typically enter without
motivations to do harm.
They justify their crimes
Travis Hirchi says that everyone can be delinquent however it is not our
moral values but the preserve law and order in society that enables us to
do so. Only people with weak obedience to the social convention tend to
Social bonds that promote conformity:
Adolescence have weak stake in conformity, they essentially have
nothing to lose by committing crimes because their bonds to conventional
society are weak.
Age Group Relations
Each age group are preoccupied with its own immediate concerns.
Conflict between generations sometimes leads to surprising alliances
Grandparents and children gang up against parents.
The aging of a population changes a society.