SOC102H1 Chapter Notes - Chapter 6: Disengagement Theory, Ageism, Population Pyramid

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Published on 18 Nov 2012
Chapter 6 Age Group Relations
Includes refusing jobs to qualified and willing candidates because of stereotypic attitudes towards people
young or old who violate the age norms and expectations of our society
Cross Cultural Attitudes to Aging
In earlier times, advanced age = respect, authority, and attention from others
As western populations industrialized, children could more readily strike out on their own as earners; no longer
had to rely on the help or good opinion of their fathers and mothers
Young people made themselves less available or willing to provide help to aging parents
Began during the 19th and 10th century in the West, and second half of the 20th century in the East
Members of our culture tend to fear gaining, with its concomitant physical decline to death
One common belief is that most seniors are frail and ailing and that the majority need full-time care in nursing
homes or other institutional settings
However, only 1.4% of men and 1.7% of women (65-74) live in a special-care institution; rest at home
Another common belief is that most elderly people are senile or rapidly headed in that direction
However, most keep their cognitive and perceptual functions for many years; Alzheimer’s affects only 3% of
people aged 65-74; 50% after people pass 80
We learn negative attitudes towards aging and older people from the mass media and from jokes and cartoons
The media create a self-fulfilling prophecy in which elderly begin to think and behave as people expect
The Idea of a “Life Course”
Life course is a patterned sequence of individual experiences over time, subject to varied social, historical and
cultural influences
There is, in each society, an expected life course; the gap between the life courses we expect and those we
experience may cause much distress
Glen Elder notes the life course approach rests on 5 main assumptions
1. Human development and aging are lifelong processes
a. As people get older, their lives change
b. At each stage, certain concerns become supreme and others become trivial
c. Certain important life events typically are concentrated in certain periods of a person’s life
d. Social institutions are gatekeepers; divide and regulate transitions -> school, marriage, jobs etc
e. We cannot understand the ideas, actions, and beliefs of people at any given age without some
understanding of how they got to that age their developmental pathway
f. Longitudinal studies are the best ways of understanding all people
2. The developmental antecedents and consequences of life transitions, events, and behaviour patterns vary
according to their timing in a person’s life
a. It makes a difference at what age you make a key life transition (whether you get a divorce at 25 or 55) -
> affects how people view themselves because self-image is often based on a comparison with others
b. Generally, the sequence of the major changes in our lives has an important impact on the experience we
have and people we meet
3. Lives are lived interdependently and socio-historical influences are expressed through this network of shared
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a. We may find ourselves entering new statuses because of the actions of others, not through our own
choosing (becoming a grandma because your daughter had a daughter early)
b. Our degree of preparation for new roles and statuses is important for how we experience and perform
our key roles and statuses
4. The life course of individuals is embedded in and shaped by the historical times and places they experience over
their lifetime
a. Eg. Coming of college age means something different depending on the time period
b. The historical period affects our opportunities and the choices we are likely to make; and these will
affect other opportunities and choices throughout our lives
5. Individuals construct their own life courses through the choices and actions they take within the opportunities of
history and social circumstances
a. Within any social category or historical period, we will find variations in human lives, because people are
free to choose different paths
b. People have a fairly predictable sequence of life experiences as they move from 20 to 50 to 80 and they
feel uncomfortable when they deviate from that sequence
Basic Aspects of the Sociology of Aging
Senescence: the biological aging of an organism as it lives beyond its maturity, usually accompanied by chemical
and organic changes
However, exactly at what age and in what form the decline takes place varies widely from one person to another
Today, older people can look forward to a longer and healthier old age than in the past
With an increased interest in childhood, there had been a decreased interest in later adulthood when their
numbers have been increasingly dramatically
1901, only 5% was 65+; over the past century, this fraction has more than doubled to 12%
Age pyramid: a graphic depiction of the age composition of a population, broken down by age and sex; pyramid-
shaped if the birth rate is high but otherwise more rectangular
Canada’s – diamond shaped: a small base among the youngest groups, spreading out gradually as age groups
increase in size until ages 45-55, before tapering off into a high, thin peak around ages 80-90; reflects a
population undergoing change
Age Stratification
Age stratification theory focuses on the way social structures affect individual aging and the stratification, or
vertical segregation, of people by age
It is concerned with the segregation and mistreatment of certain age groups
Because of this, aging and ageism pose various problems for society, especially as increasing percentages of the
world and Canadian populations are getting older
1. Ageism is repellent to a society like ours that is pledged to judging people by what they do rather
than who they are
2. Ageism poses practical problems for the victims of this discrimination
a. ageism has both material and psychological effects
i. materially limits people’s opportunities to get the jobs and incomes they may
need to survive
ii. psychologically - ageism makes people feel rejected, excluded and degraded
b. they feel they are less than they want and need to be as human beings
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generally, populations with a high proportion of very old or very young people consume a high proportion of
their national economy in the form of supports for dependent populations: health, education, welfare, housing
the increased proportion of elderly people means
1. elderly will need costly care and support
2. An increasing proportion of people who are considered useless and held in low regard
Theoretical Perspectives on Aging
Main points
Structural functionalism
all elements in society are interrelated
disengagement theory accounts for the relegation of older people to the sidelines of
retirement serves several functions, especially the re-invigoration of social
Conflict theory
conflict and change are basic features of social life
age-related discrimination does not benefit society
elderly people do not disengage, they are pushed out of the workforce
the most powerful groups in society command resources and are the decision-
Symbolic interactionism
social life involves continued interaction
socially constructed definitions of age and aging affect one’s experience of growing
people take on new roles as they age (they do not disengage)
media portrayals reflect and reinforce society’s stereotypes about older people
Feminist theory
aging affects men and women differently
women, because they live longer than men on average, are more likely to suffer the
hardships associated with aging
generally, women provide care in aging while men receive it
Social constructionism
views of aging are shaped by moral entrepreneurship
popular beliefs about aging are propagated by the mass media and do not reflect
Structural Functionalism
Thinks that society is like a living organism, made up of interconnected parts that together work as an efficient,
productive whole
Views society as being only as strong as its weakest members
Disengagement theory: Elaine Cumming and William Henry; theory that as people age, they voluntarily and
normally remove themselves from activities and social contacts, to ease their passage into a less active lifestyle
As people age, they gradually decline, physically and mentally
At work, elderly are often less efficient than their younger
For the good of society and for themselves, disengagement theory argues, elderly should give up their positions
and withdraw to the edges of society, where they can prepare for their certain death
Age-based retirement from work serves several functions
1. It empties job positions for younger people to move up
2. It gives the retiree a moment of celebratory recognition (retirement party)
3. It ensures that society replaces outdated skills and ideas with more useful ones
Functionalists stress that this change is bother natural and crucial to society’s effectiveness
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