Soc102: Chapter 8
Age Groups Reading
-people living longer: in the past 1 career and 1 family was enough, now new opportunity holds great
importance for social organization.
-aging is also historical: different to be young adult today than in the past.
-cultural meanings are specific to times and places:
Young people look forward to better days
Old people look backward to better days
-age difference concern us less as we grow olderlaw tries to protect younger and more vulnerable,
less social protection is needed for ages 20-70
-meanings of age and aging are always in flux, so our age-related policies need to keep changing to
agree with them.
-problem with age: leads to stereotyping and prejudice, classifying people by age, can lead to
Ex. teens are irrational and headstrong
Ageism: all types of prejudice/discrimination against members of society based on individual’s age,
whether old or young.
-thinks society is made up of supporting parts working together to function (a well-oiled machine…)
->also views that society is only as strong as its weakest members
Disengagement theory: Elaine Cumming & William Henryholds that elderly people are among the
weakest members of the population and so society takes them out of central positions of
holds that people readily give up their social roles as they age
-retirement serves several functions for society:
1. empties a work position, allowing someone from new generation to take their place
2. allows retiree a moment of recognition
3. ensures that society replaces outdated skills and ideas with more useful ones
crucial to society’s effectiveness
1 Critical Theory:
-ageism doesn’t serve society as a whole but is merely a form of inequality exercised by the age group
20-60 to further its own interests
-age groups hold different interests, each group competes against others to enlarge its share of society’s
resourcesproblem with this is that young & old lack organization and power to influence public policy
SO middle aged have more influence and it leads to inequality
-assumption that age leads to the dependence of elderly on rest of society, but only ones with
physical/mental problems are dependent on society
What is wrong with Disengagement theory (according to Critical theorists):
-too simplistic, depicting humans as robots who contribute to institution and then wait to die.
-doesn’t take into account the elderly which refuse to retire and stay active in society’s functions, they
are pushed by younger people to retire
-focus attention on how we symbolize elderly people and enact aging in our society
-how society and the media portray the elderly
Double standard around sex and romance disadvantaging women:
it is rare for a younger man to be involved with an older women than the other way around. Male
actors continue to dominate romances on screens, while female actresses lose marketablility as they get
-study how socially constructed definitions of age and aging affect a person’s experience growing old.
-stress that age is a state of mind shaped by the labels society applies
Ex. being excited and happy when elderly is a result from a positive attitude towards aging
-therefore, satisfaction toward aging means rejecting the definition of old age as disabling.
Activity theory: Havighurst and Albrechtcontrary to disengagement theory (holds that people readily
give up their social roles as they age), people take on new roles as they age.
1. Preserves a sense of community
2. Helps people preserve their self-concept
3. Contributes to greater life satisfaction
2 People keeping a high level of activity age more ‘successfully’ than people who don’trelates role-play
to self-identity and psychological well-being.
Women are at a disadvantage for aging compared to men
o experience of aging different for men & womendifferent expectations
Because for women: culturally defined loss of youth and glamour
o Women work in different sectors of workforce and earn less for retirement
o Women usually outlive their spouses (live alone on meagre income during senior years/are
forced to live in homes)
o Women have the housekeeping rolecarries important results in old age (the caregiving roles
they take on from a younger age limit their pension benefits for older age)
contributes to ‘feminization of poverty’
Centuries of Childhood
Philippe Aries – wrote that childhood hasn’t always existed
argued that childhood is a cultural invention or social construction
-age was relatively unimportant before the industrial times, and childhood was almost non-existent
(children were forced to work and act like adults from an early age)
From the 16 century, people started viewing children as different from adultschanged their
perspective and brought on child-labour and protection laws and schooling
profound effects: segregation between adults and children, children viewed as different with different
needs/tasks to accomplish to ‘grow up’ into adults
-schools allow children to form age-related groups, further segregating themselves from adultseffect
of preparing them poorly for adult life
-over the years, formal education continued to increase in length and complexity and extended the
period of ‘cultural childhood’’adolescence’: cultural label invented to cover the new life stage
between ‘childhood’ and ‘adulthood’ came into being
Although culturally invented, adolescence is also characterized by visible, biological features (eg.
hormonal changes and greater emotional volatility than children).
(Some scholars believe children have always constituted a separate age group and criticize Aries for
using unrepresentative data and relying too heavily on writings of moralists and educationalists)
-due to our population growing older, history suggests we might have to ‘invent’ more age groups.
3 Youth: A Time of Risk-taking
Difference between young people, middle-aged people, and elders: the willingness of youth to take risks
1. Teenage risk-taking is commonplace and ordinary
2. Perpetrators and victims are often the same people
3. Risky behaviours tend to be largely defined by age and sex (old youth who are guys get into
more trouble than young girls)
David Matza: Delinquency and Drift:
o lot of young people ‘drift’ into delinquency without strong motivation to do harm with
‘techniques of neutralization’ (provide varied excuses for rule-breaking, making drift into
o believes delinquents and non-delinquents share same values/attitudes but they adopt
‘neutralizing’ excuses to break rules
o everyone has the potential to become a delinquent, and social controls, not moral values,
preserve law and order.
o Delinquents defy moral codes because their attachment to social convention is weak.
4 Social Bonds that routinely promote conformity:
1. Attachment person’s interest in/attachment to others (esp parents/peers)
2. Commitment time, energy, effort spent in conventional activities (school,
homework, paid work) – people investing time building a
good rep are less likely to ruin their reps
3. Involvement in activities that support the conventional interests of society
(sports, music, community service) – time away from
engaging in delinquent activities
4. Belief in the laws of society, and in people who enforce such laws
adolescence take risks and break rules if their bonds to conventional society are weak
have a weak ‘stake in conformity’-no reputation, career, mortgage, or credit rating to