Problems Associated with Aging
• Ageism— prejudice and discrimination against people on the basis of age—is a social problem that
particularly stigmatizes and marginalizes older people.
• Age stratification refers to the inequalities, differences, and segregation between age groups that
occurs throughout the life course. It is a determinant of how education, jobs, and other scarce resources
and opportunities are allocated in society.
• Age stratification also limits roles and opportunities. People automatically assume that at age
fourteen, a person should be in school; that at age thirty, a person should be married; and that at age
sixty-five, a person should retire from full-time employment. Such perceptions about age may create
problems for people in all age categories, but the problems typically are most pronounced among older
Social Security Crisis
• Social Security is the only source of income for about half of retired people and a major source of
income for 80 percent of the people in the U.S. Since the introduction of Social Security in the 1930s,
this program has been a significant aid to the elderly. Social Security has significantly reduced poverty
among the elderly—from 35.2 percent in 1959 to 9.7 percent in 1999.
• Social Security also provides life insurance benefits to the survivors in cases of the death of a
breadwinner and disability payments when a wage earner is unable to work. Social Security expresses
the belief in society taking responsibility for the welfare of all its citizens.
• Despite its considerable strengths, the Social Security program has several serious problems that place
a disproportionate burden on certain categories of elderly and on some portions of the workers paying
into the program:
1) Not all workers are covered by Social Security. Some groups of workers are unable to participate
because they work for states with alternative retirement programs. Other workers, however, are
covered by neither Social Security nor other pension programs. Legislation has specifically exempted
certain occupations (e.g., agricultural workers) from the Social Security program.
2) For those who are eligible for Social Security, there are wide disparities in the benefits received. The
amount of benefits depends on the length of time workers have paid into the Social Security program
and the amount of wages on which they paid a Social Security tax. In short, low-paid workers receive
low benefits at retirement. Thirty percent of the elderly who depend almost exclusively on Social
Security benefits are still below the poverty line despite these benefits.
3) The method of financing Social Security is not equitable because it disproportionately disadvantages lower-income wage earners. In other words, the tax is regressive: it takes a larger percentage from
people with the lowest incomes. The Social Security tax has the following negative features:
a) It is levied at a constant rate (i.e., everyone, rich and poor, pays the same rate).
b) It applies only to wages and salaries, thus exempting income typical for the wealthy, such as interest,
dividends, rents, and capital gains from the sale of property.
c) It starts with the first dollar of earned income, offering no allowances or exemptions for the very
d) It is imposed up to a ceiling ($68,400 in 2000). Thus, in effect, in 2000 a worker making $68,400 and
an executive o