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Chapter 5

Chapter 5

12 pages111 viewsWinter 2011

Department
Sociology
Course Code
SOC246H1
Professor
William Magee
Chapter
5

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Week 7: February 28
HISTORICAL & CULTURAL PERSPECTIVES
Chapter 5 Historical Perspectives on Aging
INTRODUCTION
There was a golden age of aging
oThe extended family household, which was the site of production and
education, was dominated by older family members
oThe skills were passed from the older to the younger generation
oBecause few people were literate, community traditions were orally
transmitted by the elderly
oThe position of the aged in society: veneration
Then a revolutionary process: modernization
oModernization Theory
As urbanization drew younger people to the cities, the extended
family household was destroyed
As industrialization moved from the household to the factory,
parents lost the ability to teach their skills to their children
As mass education increased rates of literacy, the aged were no
longer the repositories of wisdom
The veneration of the aged was replaced by a cult of youth
Isolated from their families and pushed out of the labor force, the
aged were forced to spend their final days in institutions
WERE THE AGED VENERATED IN PREINDUSTRIAL SOCIETY?
Veneration in Non-Western Cultures
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In non-Western cultures the elderly are often accorded great respect and
esteem
oE.g. Traditional Chinese culturea high value on old age
The veneration of the old is linked to Confucian values:
The parent should treat the child with nurturance, and the
child should treat the parent with absolute obedience
Conventional gestures such as speaking politely deferring
in conversation to those older than oneself, and never
ridiculing or insulting the aged
Modernization theorists ask whether practices common in traditional non-
Western cultures were ever found in Western societies in the preindustrial
past and, if so, whether modernization and industrialization destroyed the
tradition of veneration for the elderly
oWestern history indicates that people have always negative views of
the aged
E.g. In his ‘Rhetoric, Aristotle accused the aged of being selfish
and fearful
Most historians believe that the elderly were venerated in the colonial period of
American history
Veneration of the Aged in Colonial Times, 1620-1770
Puritans
oWanted to abolish the church hierarchy and “purify” it from corrupt
influences
oThey wanted a church free from political interference
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Puritan ideals and religious beliefs
oThe ordinance of predestination: ones fate was determined before birth
and Christians could do nothing to alter their destiny
oMembers of the elect were saved, regardless of their actions
oThose who were damned could not change their fate no matter how
many good deeds they performed
Doing good works could not earn an individual a place in heaven
Thus, only holding high status in the community was seen as an
indication of salvation
oDifferences in status were inevitable part of colonial society
In this hierarchical society, the elderly occupied a position at the pinnacle
oElders were guides and leaders in all matters
oLife as proceeding through developmental stages with spiritual
development peaking in old age (religious belief)
Thus, the aged were uniquely qualified to serve as moral
exemplars for the young
Many cultural practices symbolized the ideal of veneration
oE.g. in the churches of colonial New England, the places of honor in
the center pews in front of the minister were reserved for the elderly
Colonial society was a gerontocracy = a community ruled by the aged
oHowever, not all elderly people held power and prestige
oVeneration was reserved for older men but rarely granted to women,
immigrants, or slaves
The status of aged women
oSubordination of women to their husbands
A married woman could not make contracts, buy or sell property,
or draft a will
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