September 11, 2012: Lecture 1
Sociology of Aging
Instructor: Markus Schafer.
Aging has inspired artwork throughout history.
o I.e. The Fountain of Youth – there are many paintings that depict this idea,
whether it is the fountain itself or a series of women at a variety of ages from
infancy to old age.
Ancient Hebrew text has said that the life will be 120 years. The lifespan people can
expect to have has been around for thousands of years
Aristotle (Western Civilization): the four humours – fire, air, water and earth. When you
get older the humor becomes out of balance and becomes cold and dry. Youth brings hot
Plato represented this very flattering view of aging.
The Greeks enjoyed showing strength and beauty, even older people who has developed
strength (a graceful view of aging).
Good and unflattering views of aging has been shown through classical time.
Better and modern medicine, people began to live in their 60s and 70s.
Different side of aging: people who are well off versus those who are not.
o Those with money get to enjoy their garden vs. those who are commoners
working and are tired.
Aging can be whatever you want.
In Hollywood aging is grotesque.
Stereotypes (unflattering view)
Thomas Khol says Western culture has advanced a bi-polar thought of aging
o Super aging
o Unattainable good aging
o Bad old age
o His argument: as a culture we‟re not comfortable facing aging, we swing back and
forth on this bi-polar line.
What is aging?
At the most basic level, a correspondence with time
Age: “the length of time a being exists” SOC246H1 2
September 11, 2012: Lecture 1
How do people change over time?
What does time actually represent to people?
“Unrelated sets of data show correlations with chronological age that have no intrinsic or
causal relationship with each other.”
o I.e. back aches and saving accounts. Incidentally correlated but not caused by
o Is age causing back aches or is it time elapsing for the muscles in your back to
o This forces us to clarify why we are so concerned about aging.
a) Chronological age – how long the person has been alive
a. Establishes many of the privileges and duties in society
i. Drinking age, driving age, senior discounts
b. Informal norms and expectations (norms are informal rules of thumb of what we
expect from others in society)
i. Statistical age norms – descriptions about statistical regularity about the
timing of events in a population.
1. i.e. what age do people get married?
ii. Optimal age norms – best/ideal/preferred time for something to happen in
1. Optimal age norms aren‟t static, they are different over time
iii. Prescriptive age norms – a time when someone should go through a
particular life event
1. A sanction if someone doesn‟t do this particular thing.
c. Birth year
b) Subjective age – how old a person feels or would like to be
c) Biological age – present position with respect to a person‟s potential life span. Many of
the “symptoms” or aging are interrelated: cancer, heart, disease, frailty, cognitive
d) Functional age – what a person can do
e) Life stage – psychology: developmental stages.
sociology (socially constructed): economic forces, cultural factors
a. Childhood, adolescence, the toddler movement (i.e. Shirley Temple).
Preschoolers, tweens, emerging adults, young old (65-74), old-old (75-84), oldest-
b. Four „ages‟ (Peter Laslett)