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Historical Perspectives on Aging (i)

13 pages107 viewsWinter 2011

Course Code
William Magee

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Chapter 5: Historical Perspectives on Aging
Golden Age of Aging
oThe old were few, but held great power and authority in the
community and in the family
oThe extended family household, which was the site of production
and education, was dominated by older family members
oSkills needed to pursue a craft passed from the older to the
younger generation
oFew people were literate
oCommunity traditions were orally transmitted by the elderly
oThe position of the aged in society: veneration
An attitude toward the aged that emphasizes
respect, honor, obligation, and deference; also, a
feeling of religious awe and reverence that
approaches a form of worship
oA revolutionary process; shattered traditional society
oUrbanization drew young people to cities & extended family
household was destroyed
oIndustrialization moved work from the household to the
oMass education increased rates of literacy
oVeneration of the aged was replaced by a cult of youth
oThe aged were isolated from families, pushed out of the labour
force & forced to spend their final days in institutions
oModernization Theory = true????
<Were the Aged Venerated in Preindustrial Society?>
(Veneration in Non-Western Cultures)
The idea of veneration was borrowed by modernization theorists from
non-Western traditional cultures
Ex) Kirghiz
oHousehold head, called oey bashi, is the most senior male or
oOey bashi exercises complete authority over the household and
represents its social relations with the community
Ex) China
oTraditional Chinese culture
Veneration of the old is linked with Confucian values
Zi nurturance (parent child)
Xiao filial piety, absolute obedience (child 
parent, all elderly people)
oCommunist China (1949~)
Shifted responsibility for the aged from the family to the
One child policy reduced the number of kin available to
provide care to the elderly
The government now provides pensions and health
insurance, and number of nursing homes has been
growing rapidly
In Western preindustrial societies
oPeople have always held negative views of the aged
oMost historians believe that the elderly were venerated in the
colonial period of US history
(Veneration of the Aged in Colonial Times, 1620-1770)
Puritan ideals and religious beliefs
oPuritans believed predestination; holding high status in the
community was seen as an indication of salvation
oPuritan ideal = to establish a common wealth in the true sense
of the word, a community in which each person put the good of
the whole ahead of his or her personal needs
oHowever, difference in status was an inevitable part of colonial
society; in this hierarchical society, the elders were guide and
Colonial society = gerontocracy (a community ruled by the
oVeneration of the elderly was anchored in the Puritans strong
religious beliefs, which viewed life as proceeding through a
series of developmental stages with spiritual development
peaking in old age
Veneration was reserved for older men (rarely to women,
immigrants, or slaves)
oMany cultural practices symbolized the ideal of veneration
Sitting reservations, clothing, etc.
The status of aged women
oEnglish + colonial laws women in a subservient position to
oCommon law doctrine a married woman became one person
with husband
Cannot make contracts, buy or sell property, or draft a
Any property women owned before marriage becomes
oOnly widows or single women could run business of their own
oWomen of high status = married to esteemed men
Widowhood in colonial New England
oPast status as wife of the household head, security depended
on husbands wealth
oWidows were guaranteed one third of husbands property (which
were still part of their sons inheritance not much actual
oWidows inherited husbands debts as well as their estates
oMany widows remained dependent on others for support
Perceptions of older women were often negative
oWere called as hag, old maid
oSome even were viewed as sorcerers and witches
The status of aged slaves
oAlthough slave-based agriculture was not profitable, slavery was
practiced in both the North and South before the American
Revolution of 1776
oSlavery was abolished in the Northern states after the
Revolutionary war ended in 1783; African slave trade was closed
in 1808
o1800~1860, English textile industry high demand for cotton
the large slaveholding plantations dominated the Souths
economy and politics
2/3 families did no own slaves

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