13.1: Who Are the Elderly? Aging in Society
Many media portrayals of the elderly reflect negative cultural attitudes toward aging. In the United States, society tends to glorify youth and associate it with beauty and sexuality. In comedies, the elderly are often associated with grumpiness or hostility. Rarely do the roles of older people convey the fullness of life experienced by seniors—as employees, lovers, or the myriad roles they have in real life. What values does this reflect?
In most countries, elderly women ______ than elderly men.
- are mistreated less
- live a few years longer
- suffer fewer health problems
- deal with issues of aging better
America’s baby boomer generation has contributed to all of the following except:
- Social Security’s vulnerability
- improved medical technology
- Medicaid being in danger of going bankrupt
- rising Medicare budgets
The measure that compares the number of men to women in a population is ______.
- sex ratio
- baby boomer
The “graying of the United States” refers to ________.
- the increasing percentage of the population over sixty-five years old
- faster aging due to stress
- dissatisfaction with retirement plans
- increased health problems such as Alzheimer’s
What is the approximate median age of the United States?
Baby boomers have been called the “Me Generation.” Do you know any baby boomers? In what way do they exemplify their generation?
What social issues involve age disaggregation (breakdowns into groups) of a population? What kind of sociological studies would consider age an important factor?
Conduct a mini-census by counting the members of your extended family, and emphasize age. Try to include three or four generations, if possible. Create a table and include total population plus percentages of each generation. Next, begin to analyze age patterns in your family. What issues are important and specific to each group? What trends can you predict about your own family over the next ten years based on this census? For example, how will family members’ needs and interests and relationships change the family dynamic?
13.2: The Process of Aging
Through the phases of the life course, dependence and independence levels change. At birth, newborns are dependent on caregivers for everything. As babies become toddlers and toddlers become adolescents and then teenagers, they assert their independence more and more. Gradually, children come to be considered adults, responsible for their own lives, although the point at which this occurs is widely varied among individuals, families, and cultures.
Thanatology is the study of _____.
- life expectancy
- biological aging
- death and dying
In Erik Erikson’s developmental stages of life, with which challenge must older people struggle?
- Overcoming despair to achieve integrity
- Overcoming role confusion to achieve identity
- Overcoming isolation to achieve intimacy
- Overcoming shame to achieve autonomy
Who wrote the book On Death and Dying, outlining the five stages of grief?
- Ignatz Nascher
- Erik Erikson
- Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
- Carol Gilligan
For individual people of a certain culture, the life course is ________.
- the average age they will die
- the lessons they must learn
- the length of a typical bereavement period
- the typical sequence of events in their lives
In the United States, life expectancy rates in recent decades have ______.
- continued to gradually rise
- gone up and down due to global issues such as military conflicts
- lowered as healthcare improves
- stayed the same since the mid-1960s
Test Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief. Think of someone or something you have lost. You might consider the loss of a relationship, possession, or aspect of your self-identity. For example, perhaps you dissolved a childhood friendship, sold your car, or got a bad haircut. For even a small loss, did you experience all five stages of grief? If so, how did the expression of each stage manifest? Did the process happen slowly or rapidly? Did the stages occur out of order? Did you reach acceptance? Try to recall the experience and analyze your own response to loss. Does your experience facilitate your empathizing with the elderly?
What do you think it will be like to be ten, twenty, and fifty years older than you are now? What facts are your assumptions based on? Are any of your assumptions about getting older false? What kind of sociological study could you establish to test your assumptions?
What is your relationship to aging and to time? Look back on your own life. How much and in what ways did you change in ten years and in twenty years? Does a decade seem like a long time or a short time in a life span? Now apply some of your ideas to the idea of aging. Do you think older people share similar experiences as they age?
13.3: Challenges Facing the Elderly
Aging comes with many challenges. The loss of independence is one potential part of the process, as are diminished physical ability and age discrimination. The term senescence refers to the aging process, including biological, emotional, intellectual, social, and spiritual changes. This section discusses some of the challenges we encounter during this process.
Today in the United States the poverty rate of the elderly is ______.
- lower than at any point in history
- the same as that of the general population
Which action reflects ageism?
- Enabling WWII veterans to visit war memorials
- Speaking slowly and loudly when talking to someone over age sixty-five years old
- Believing that older people drive too slowly
- Living in a culture where elders are respected
Which factor most increases the risk of an elderly person suffering mistreatment?
- Bereavement due to widowhood
- Having been abusive as a younger adult
- Being frail to the point of dependency on care
- The ability to bestow a large inheritance on survivors
If elderly people suffer abuse, it is most often perpetrated by ______.
Veterans are two to four times more likely to ______ as people who did not serve in the military.
- be a victim of elder abuse
- commit suicide
- be concerned about financial stresses
- be abusive toward care providers
Make a list of all the biases, generalizations, and stereotypes about elderly people that you have seen or heard. Include everything, no matter how small or seemingly trivial. Try to rate the items on your list. Which statements can be considered myths? Which frequently turn into discrimination?
Have you known any person who experienced prejudice or discrimination based on age? Think of someone who has been denied an experience or opportunity simply for being too old. Write the story as a case study.
Think of an older person you know well, perhaps a grandparent, other relative, or neighbor. How does this person defy certain stereotypes of aging?
Older people suffer discrimination, and often, so do teenagers. Compare the discrimination of the elderly to that of teenagers. What do the groups share in common and how are they different?
13.4: Theoretical Perspectives on Aging
What roles do individual senior citizens play in your life? How do you relate to and interact with older people? What role do they play in neighborhoods and communities, in cities and in states? Sociologists are interested in exploring the answers to questions such as these through three different perspectives: functionalism, symbolic interactionism, and conflict theory.
Which assertion about aging in men would be made by a sociologist following the functionalist perspective?
- Men view balding as representative of a loss of strength.
- Men tend to have better retirement plans than women.
- Men have life expectancies three to five years shorter than women.
- Men who remain active after retirement play supportive community roles.
An older woman retires and completely changes her life. She is no longer raising children or working. However, she joins the YWCA to swim every day. She serves on the Friends of the Library board. She is part of a neighborhood group that plays Bunco on Saturday nights. Her situation most closely illustrates the ______ theory.
An older man retires from his job, stops golfing, and cancels his newspaper subscription. After his wife dies, he lives alone, loses touch with his children, and stops seeing old friends. His situation most closely illustrates the _______ theory.
What is the primary driver of modernization theory?
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act counteracts which theory?
- Age stratification
Remember Madame Jeanne Calment of France was the world's oldest living person until she died at 122 years old? Consider her life experiences from all three sociological points of view. Analyze her situation as if you were a functionalist, a symbolic interactionist, and a conflict theorist.
Which lifestyle do you think is healthiest for aging people—activity, continuity, or disengagement theories? What are the pros and cons of each theory? Find examples of real people who illustrate the theories, either from your own experience or your friends’ relationships with older people. Do your examples show positive or negative aspects of the theory they illustrate?