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Markus Schafer

Sociology of Aging Class Notes Fall 2012, Class 1 This semester can basically be boiled down to two inter-related concepts: individual aging and population aging. I. Key questions: What is aging? - Age is simply at its most basic level a correspondence with time Is “age” important? - Does the passage of time cause anything to happen? This is a tricky question because we don’t know if aging causes things or if the passage of time just allows more opportunities for things to happen (ex. Back pain, amount of money in bank account) II. There are various ways to categorize age - chronological age - formal duties and priveledges (ex. Drinking age) - informal norms and expectations: - > statistical age norms (descriptions about the statistical regularity of the timing of different life events in the larger population) ex. Age of first marriage - > optimal age norms: idea that there is a preferred tiem for something to happen in someones life, more fuzzy. The sense that theres a best time to do something. Optimal age norms aren’t something that’s static - > prescriptive age norms: not just the best time but when someone SHOULD (informal or formal sanction if someone doesn’t follow through with the age norm). ex. When SHOULD a person get married? When SHOULD a person stop wearing a bikini to the beach? If you wear a bikini to the beach when ppl think its inappropriate for you to do so, theres an informal sanction - Birth year: chronological age also tells us the birth year of someone which is important for some stuff we’ll talk about next week. - subjective age - how old a person feels or would like to be (someones age identity) - biological age - present position with respect to a person’s potential life span - many of the “symptoms” of aging are interrelated; cancer, heart disease, fragility cognitive impairment - (some stuff in the body can give us indication of what part of life span ppl are in) - functional age - what a person can do - (this is more commonly used thinking about babies or young kids) - (theres a normal expectation of when a kid will do what) - (60 being the new 40, idea that you can do things at 60 that before you could only do at 40) - life stage o Key distinction: developmental perspectives (psychology) vs. sociological perspectives - Developmental -> resulting from internal psychological conflict or something (1hr 3m 50s) - Sociological -> really looks at environment and context - - psychology: developmental stages (ex. Erikson’s 8 stages, emphasise that theres a natural universal unfolding process people naturally go through, recently we’ve been incorporating environment too though. But sociologists really look into the environmental contexts;) - sociology: economic, political, social, and cultural factors form the stages of life that people pass through - (ex. adolescence is a new stage of life that was created because of social changes) - (ex. Finer gradations of childhood, toddlers as a specific class is a new idea too emerged largely because of marketing -> Shirley Temple) - > childhood - > adolescence - > toddlers - > preschoolers - > tweens - > emerging adults - > “young old” (65-74) - > “old-old” (75-84) - > “oldest-old” (85+) - (Increasing categorization) - (different categorization of old ppl cuz more ppl living long) - (we had to rethink age categories because we have population changes) - (so this shows how sociological view of life stages differs from psychological, stages ppl go through are really affected by society) 1 o “four ages” – Peter Laslett - (Idea that there are 4 ages ppl go through - 1. Age of dependence, immaturity, education, ppl being prepared for worker roles in society - 2. Age of increasing independence, maturity, responsibility, earning money, saving money, working, taking on social roles (ex. Parent) - 3. Age that has emerged over the last 20-30 years, age when people have personal fulfillment and achievement in life and are able to step away from career paths. A time when ppl haven’t yet started having health limitations, ppl are able to enjoy life and see the fruits of their labour. - 4. Time of dependence and death becoming increasingly near, no longer able to enjoy consequences of your work, preparing for death and dependant on other people) - (he says the third age should be the goal, ppl no longer forced to work but also not dependent on other ppl or need to be taken care of. This third age of life is new, before we didn’t have it. But its still something that can only be achieved in wealthy industrial countries) - 1Laslett, Peter. 1987. “The Emergence of the Third Age.” Ageing and Society 7:133-160. III. Why do we age, anyway? (In one sense, human aging is fundamentally a biological process, so it is important to have a grasp of basic biological theories of aging) - (make a distinction between age and senescence) - Evolutionary explanations: - (it wasn’t clear for a long time why senescence actually happens, why we age) - Peter Medawar: An Unsolved Problem of Biology - (^ he introduces a theory of why organisms age. He starts with Darwinism premise, two important things, mechanisms that HAVE to happen if evolution is to occur. If evolution is to occur what two things must happen?
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