SOC102H1 Chapter Notes -Life Table, Dependency Ratio, Feminist Theory
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Week 5 – Age relations and Ageism
Starting Points, Chapter 8
Ageism All types of prejudice or discrimination against members of
society based on an individual’s age, whether old or young.
Ways of looking at… Age groups
o Society is only as strong as its weakest members.
o Disengagement theory – elderly people are among the weakest
members of the population and that society has, therefore, devised a
means of displacing them from central positions of power and
For the good of society and for themselves, elderly people
finally give up their positions and withdraw to the edges of
society, where they begin to prepare for their eventual death.
Retirement is beneficial because it opens up a spot in the
workforce, recognizes the retiree’s contribution, and allows
out-dated ideas to be replaced by newer one. This is natural
and crucial to society’s effectiveness.
o Disagree with functionalists that exclusion of older people from
financially rewarding and socially important roles is good for society.
o Ageism does not serve society as a whole but as merely a form of
inequality exercised by people in the middle ages (e.g. 20-60) to
further their own interests
o Employers push people out of work. When elderly people disengage,
then, it is often because of other people’s wishes, not their own.
o Different age groups hold different interests, and each competes
against the others to enlarge its share of society’s resources. So the
young and old have less power and less access to the resources they
o Many assumptions about aging lead directly to the financial
dependence of elderly people on the rest of society.
o How we symbolize elderly people and enact aging in our society. How
socially constructed definitions of age and aging affect a person’s
experience of growing old.
o Age is a state of mind shaped by the labels society applies.
o Activity theory – contrary to disengagement theory, people in fact
take on new roles as they age. Such continued activity preserves a
sense of continuity, helps people preserve their self-concept, and
contributes to greater life satisfaction.
o Some have looked at how society and media portray elderly people.
The portrayals reflect society’s stereotypes about older people and
help reinforce these images.
RESULT: women tend to disappear from the media as they age
more than men do.
o For women, aging is associated with a culturally defined loss of youth
and glamour. This loss isn’t as crucial for men.
o Women earn less pay and are less likely to qualify for a pension plan.
Further, also live longer. SO much more likely to be in poverty when
old. “feminization of poverty.”
Classic Studies: Centuries of Childhood (Philippe Aries)
Childhood as we know it is a cultural invention. Invented in late medieval
Europe and perfected in industrial times.
o Age was relatively unimportant before industrial times, and childhood
was almost non-existent.
o Started to be viewed as different from adults in the 16th century.
Segregation of childhood and adulthood has the effect of preparing children
poorly for adult life.
The growth of education has extended the period of cultural childhood –
characterized by social marginality, behavioural irresponsibility, and
o Invention of the period of adolescence.
His analysis of the ways age groups become more distinct over time, in
response to emerging social concerns, is crucial to understanding age group
relations in the past and today.
Youth: A Time of Risk-taking
Young people are most likely to take risks.
o Older youth take more risks than young, and boys take more risks
o Youthful risk-taking is commonplace.
o Delinquents share the same values and attitudes as non-delinquents,
and need only the help of neutralizing excuses to break rules.
o Delinquents defy moral codes because their attachment to social
convention is weak.
Four social bonds that routinely promote conformity are attachment,
commitment, involvement, and belief.
o Attachment – a person’s interest in or attachment to others (esp
parents and peers).
o Commitment. Time, energy, and effort spent in conventional activities
tie an individual to the moral code of society. More time spent in
building up a reputation, less likely you are to do anything that might
o Involvement in activities that support the conventional interests of
society since such activities don’t leave time to engage in delinquent
or criminal acts.
o Belief in the laws of society and in the people and institutions that
enforce such laws.
Age Group Relations
Conflict between generations sometimes leads to alliances against a common
generational enemy (e.g. grandparents and grandchildren).
Less economic incentive to have children.
Culture has shifted from “respect your elders” to “respect the children.”
Changing Age Relations
Falling fertility rate is masked by high immigration rates. Many immigrants
are of childbearing age and from countries with different fertility norms.
Median age The point that divides a population into two groups of equal
size based on age, with half the population above that age and half below it.
Saskatchewan is Canada’s eldest province. Alberta is the youngest. Calgary is
the youngest city (due to lots of young people emigrating there in search of
well-paying work). West is younger than the east of Canada.
Territories – high birthrates, and high youth immigration rates. But also
people die younger.
As the number of youthful dependents has decreased, there had been an
explosion in the number of aged dependants.
Dependency ratio The proportion of people who are considered
“dependants” (under 15 or over 65 years old) compared to people 15 to 64
years, who are considered of working age.
Classic Studies: Children of the Great Depression (Glen H. Elder)
Describes the ways that historical and biographic forces act together – and on
one another – to influence life decisions within specific contexts.
o Aging is an accumulation of experiences and influences, so that what
happens in early life has consequences for later outcomes.
Studied kids who were 11 in California in 1929. Split them into to groups –
deprived and non-deprived.
o GD changed family roles – mothers took on more authority.
o To compensate for father’s decreased income, teen sons had to work
early on. RESULT: more independence, social importance, and
stronger social networks.
o More equal sharing of power in the family. Earlier independence for
the children (i.e. going out, dating at an earlier age, etc.).
Argues that shortened childhood and earlier entry into adulthood didn’t
harm deprived kids in the long run. On the contrary, many of them grew up
to be useful and successful members of society.
Relations between Young and Old
Children have an enormous influence over their parents, and vice versa.
o Kids have access to lots of strategies of resistance. Nothing to lose, and
tons of time to waste. Can use “terrorist tactics”
Ageism all types of prejudice or discrimination against members of society based on an individual"s age, whether old or young. For the good of society and for themselves, elderly people finally give up their positions and withdraw to the edges of society, where they begin to prepare for their eventual death. Retirement is beneficial because it opens up a spot in the workforce, recognizes the retiree"s contribution, and allows out-dated ideas to be replaced by newer one. This is natural and crucial to society"s effectiveness. When elderly people disengage, then, it is often because of other people"s wishes, not their own: different age groups hold different interests, and each competes against the others to enlarge its share of society"s resources. So the young and old have less power and less access to the resources they want: many assumptions about aging lead directly to the financial dependence of elderly people on the rest of society.