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Chapter 9. Aging.doc

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Western University
Sociology 1020
Kim Luton

Chapter 9: Aging → Population aging occurs when a society is experiencing a growth in the proportion of its people who are older, typically 65+ → Canadians aged 85+ are the fastest growing portion of our population → The average life expectancy of women born in 2003 is just over 82 years, men 77 → Geriatrics and gerontology focus on aging → Geriatrics: the study of the physiological aspects of aging and the unique health concerns of older persons → Gerontology: an interdisciplinary study of aging that involves the physical, psychological and social processes related to growing older and being an older person → FOCUS on the Social aspects of aging Aging: A personal Matter Personalizing Aging → 65 is a social marker of later life, the conventional retirement age and age of entitlement to economic benefits in most Western countries Stereotypes of old age → “Life is trouble. Only death is not.” – Zobra the Greek th → One traditional scale of stressful life events, starting with the 10 o Retirement o Martial reconciliation o Being fired from work o Marriage o Personal injury or illness o Death of a close family member o Jail term o Marital separation o Divorce o Death of a spouse → Negative view of aging is reflect in stereotypes: sick, isolated, ignored and lonely → Positive stereotypes also deny some of the harsher realities of aging, like illness, loss of a spouse, financial worries, impeding the development of creative and effective coping strategies by individuals and by society The study of aging → Aging is a process, or as the study of older persons → An interest in older persons as a group is often accompanied by an interest in comparing older people with other age groups. Second, when looked at as a process, researchers are interested in examining the changes that are a result of aging, what some have termed age effects (changes that are a direct function of aging ) and others maturation → Third, confounding such examinations is the need to determine whether any observed changes are a direct function of aging or of period effects → Period effects: outcomes that result from having been a certain age at a certain point in time and capture the impact of an historical time period → The only study of age differences can be accomplished using cross-sectional data, but the study of age change requires longitudinal data → Micro-level analysis of the individual aging asks such questions as : what is it like to be an older person in Canada? How does one plan for retirement and how do they cope with increasing health problems? What is family life like in older age? → macro-level approach asks questions about things like the impact of population aging on society, how social structure shapes the experience of aging through such organizing features of social life as gender, the role of society in providing support for older persons, and social policy questions concerning the distribution of benefits based on age Theoretical Approaches → usually adopts an interpretive view of aging, one that sees social structure as socially constructed and therefore, subject to change and emphasizes individual agency in negotiations of social life → symbolic interactionist approach differs from the normative approach, which tends to portray social structure in quite static terms and individuals as fairly as passive followers of society’s norms and rules as Durkheim might have argued → disengagement theory: view that the withdrawal of older persons from active social life is functional for both the individual and the larger society → activity theory: view that the best prescription for a successful old age is to remain active and to take on new activities in later life to supplant those that have been left behind → cannot treat elders as a homogenous group → age-stratification perspective: a macro level approach focused primary on two key concepts: a stratified age structure that favours young people and middle aged adults, and an age cohort, individuals who share the same age group → age-graded: system of expectations and rewards that are based on age → structural lag: society’s failure to respond fast enough to the aging of the population and to changes in the life course of individuals, such as lengthy periods of retirement → exchange theory: focuses on the relatively weak bargaining position of older persons in their exchanges with younger ones → political economy of aging perspective: macro-level view of how political and economic processes create a social structure that tends to place constrains on the lives of older persons → there is a tendency to see elder individuals as passive rather than active agents → life course perspective: encourages us to connect the lives of older persons to their earlier lives and seeks to make explicit the link between the individual and society → this approach emphasizes aging as a process and hi-lights the connection of older persons to their own life histories, the history of their times and to younger generations while connecting their biographies to social structure → feminist theories on aging often describe aging as a women’s issue, largely because there are more older women than older men → critical theory: focuses on social structure in the study of power, social action and social meanings that are part of a critique of knowledge, culture, and the economy. As related to aging, this includes examining the social construction of old age and dependency and of old-age policy → applications of critical theory also need to focus on the need to incorporate praxis or practical change that benefits older persons when theorizing about aging → symbolic interactionist perspective: social constructionist perspective: an interpretive approach that emphasizes the subjective experience of older persons and their ability to exercise agency in negotiations with others, also called the symbolic interactionist perspective a profile of older Canadians → the longer lives of women mean that, with each successive age group, the ratio of women to men increases → the personal income of women is far lower than is men’s, which means that loss of a spouse leaves women in a far worse financial position than is true of men who lose a wife Family ties and social support in later life Intimate ties → a spouse is the most likely source of support for married persons and most persons 65+ are married → as age increase, the likelihood of being married deceases, and the probably of being widowed increase marriage in the later years → there is a long held view that happiness in marriage follows a curvilinear pattern, with martial satisfaction greatest in the early and later years → however, that has proven to be false → martial satisfaction decreases over time, especially among women → departure of children can serve as a reason for divorce → retirement also reshapes the martial tie → married women are likely to retire early in order to retire at the same time as their usually older husbands → reduces the economic benefits that women receive in retirement by shortening what was already a shorter career with fewer benefits than typically experienced by men the impact of caring → if one is married, a spouse is the most likely source of help, support and caring → a long-term illness of one partner in a marriage can have multiple consequences → sorrow of serious illness, a mutual sense of loss and the need for support by one partner can actually enhance the interdependence of the martial tie, bringing rewards to both partners, in the form of a renewed sense of emotional closeness → generally, the well-being of women is tied more closely to the well-being of those to whom they are close than is true of men widowhood and divorce → losing a couple; subjectively, feelings that accompany the loss of a partner is the change of one’s identity to an individual rather than a member of a couple → objectively, changes in tangibles like finances and the social and practical skills of the partner → the period of bereavement that follows the death of a spouse is a process of about four years during which a new identity as a widowed person evolves → widowed men, who often relied on a spouse’s networking skills in the gendered division of labour, suffer greater isolation than widowed women the single (never-married) → Tend to be childless and thus excluded from spousal and parent-child ties → Then as now, daughters were more likely than sons to meet the obligations of caring for older parents, a responsibility that often overrode forming their own unions → Single women have been described as “la crème de la crème” because they tend to have
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