Definition and explanation of age | Sociology Plus (2023)


Age is a biological division that indicates the time between birth and death in years. Although old age has an objective component, since every human being has already lived a certain number of years, old age also has important subjective and socially constructive components.

Age research in sociology.

In sociology, the study of aging includes factors that affect people at all stages of life, as well as the specific period of time known as old age. However, while research on the long-term effects of changes in early and midlife has begun, most studies focus on "elderly" or "elderly" individuals.

matilda brancariley, an important figure in American sociological studies, analyzes the relationship between society andaging. In his work On the Significance of Aging in Sociology (1987), he argues that in studying aging researchers not only place people back in society, but also recognize how individuals and society develop and change.

Understanding each of the two dynamics is the goal.

(1) the aging of individuals in successive cohorts who mature, age, eventually die, and are then replaced by new individuals.

(2) how society changes as people of different ages move through age-dependent social structures.

With regard to age, sociological ideas follow different paths from other disciplines in the social sciences. The sociologist starts from the idea that old age is fascinating because it simultaneously changes and influences human behavior, but it is still a continuous human experience, treated differently by different nations.

The sociologist is interested in studying the mechanisms at play and how they are understood by men and women from different socioeconomic classes, racial and ethnic backgrounds and cultural backgrounds.

This approach stands in stark contrast to the sociopolitical and state goals of old age. Age is often seen as an issue in different situations (for the economy or for the health care system, to give two examples), which requires data collection and analysis. While this method has its own validity and justification, it can lead to a distorted perception of social aging and a limited range of topics for analysis and discussion.


Today's facets of aging have been shaped primarily by changes in aging demographics and patterns of employment and retirement. In the first of these, the increase in life expectancy has played a crucial role in the development of 'middle age' and 'old age' as crucial stages in the course of life. In addition, the structure of work and employment has changed, which has a significant impact on lifecycle transformation.

In general, the years after 1945 and the mid-1970s favored the creation of a "standard" curriculum aimed at primary education, employment and leisure. This period is linked to the development of retirement as an essential social institution, the expansion of social security rights and the eventual acceptance of extended leave after full-time employment ends.

In fact, historically, this life course model only existed for a very short time, with the years 1945 to 1975 serving as the outer limits.

Third Stage Identification

Many of the developments that began in the late 1970s can be attributed to the emergence of more adaptable work patterns and the impact of high unemployment rates. By designating a "third age" between working time and paid employment (the "second age") and a period of mental and physical decline (the "fourth age"), this led to what might be called a reconstruction of the middle and older.

Both at the lower and higher extremes, the limits of the Third Age are ambiguous and flexible, which is one of these new characteristics of social aging. Retirement from work and the merging of dependency and independence in old age require complicated transition phases.

marking changes

Age is a sign of many changes in older people as a result of a combination of physiological, social and biographical variables.

First, many seniors appreciate the changes caused by health problems. For example, it is predicted that among those age 85 and older, one in five will have dementia and three in five will have a long-term debilitating condition such as osteoarthritis or osteoporosis.

Second, there are significant changes in social ties, the loss of close friends and family being a notable feature in old age.

Third, aging earlier in life may increase rather than reduce existing inequalities.

social reputation

Age no longer predicts lifestyle or social class, and older people tend to identify with younger members of their class rather than older members of other classes. Age is influenced by social differences related to gender, race and ethnic origin, as well as socioeconomic status.

Factor age and race/ethnicity

Another big dividing line that runs through age-based relationships is race and ethnicity. For example, the black community will age significantly in the early 21st century as the immigrant cohorts of the late 1950s and 1960s reach retirement age.

Older people from minority ethnic groups are more likely to have different experiences of old age, such as B. the following:

  1. Increased susceptibility to physical illnesses due to past experiences, such as B. hard physical work and subpar living conditions.
  2. Significant vulnerability to mental health problems stems from racism and cultural pressures.
  3. There are serious financial difficulties, with evidence suggesting that older Asians are at a disadvantage.

triple risk

Seniors from different ethnic groups are said to be at "triple risk" because of their problems. This refers to the reality that ethnic older adults can suffer prejudice based on their origin, language, religion and skin color, in addition to age and the fact that many live in precarious physical and economic conditions.

women survive men

Age differences between the sexes have been widely documented. Females outlive males an average of five years; Therefore, among those over 65, there are almost 50% more women than men. As we age, the gender gap is much more pronounced: among people over 85, women outnumber it three to one. Furthermore, the high proportion of older women who are widowed affects gender, identity, relationships and subsequent roles.

western focus

Many facets of public life are standardized according to chronological age in Western nations. Social structures provide access restrictions and age-specific guidelines for appropriate behavior. Birthdays have both personal and social significance. Legal obligations and privileges are often tied to specific age groups, and age-based requirements are sometimes used to regulate access to different organizations.

The ability to vote, military service, and the need to serve on a jury are some of the civic responsibilities that correlate closely with age.

Pre-work, work and post-work times also contribute to the age structure. Western cultures now see the onset of old age at 60 or 65 associated with receiving a pension upon retirement. However, with the continued increase in life expectancy, other signs of aging are possible and more likely. Retirement at age 70, for example, would establish a new threshold for the onset of 'old age' due to efforts to prolong working life.

circle of family and friends

Understanding many facets of elderly people's lives still depends a lot on their social networks, centered on their family and friends. Most seniors are part of family networks that offer different types of support. Peer relationships, especially friendships, have been shown to be essential for well-being in old age. The research also highlighted the importance of having a confidant or "special connection" to deal with difficulties and stress later in life.

Data suggest that friends are becoming more important in older people's lives. Friends will be crucial to maintaining morale and self-identity in the early stages of retirement and well into old age.

The loss of close friends can create serious adjustment problems and threaten the sense of personal integrity for many seniors who struggle with reduced incomes and deteriorating health.

age stratification theory

However, in the 1970s, concerns began to arise about the emphasis on the individual level of theories of aging and their inability to address the impact of social and economic problems on the lives of the elderly. An early example of this was Riley's "Age Stratification Theory", which examined how social institutions affected the aging of individuals and how age was stratified in society.

One aspect of this theory is the idea of ​​"structural lag", which refers to social institutions such as B. Laws requiring retirement at age 65, delaying changes in population dynamics and individualistic aspects, for example. B. the increase in life expectancy. As a result of the idea, human resources are underutilized in both older and younger age groups, and middle-aged groups are overburdened with care and other responsibilities.

Age from a functionalist perspective in sociology.

Various sociological theories, including functionalist, symbolic-interactionist, and neo-Marxist approaches, have examined aging processes and experiences.

Role theory, a functionalist approach to the study of aging developed in the early 1950s, focused on the effects of the loss of work relationships, which were thought to lead to a post-retirement adjustment crisis.

Another functionalist point of view that took the opposite stance, "disengagement theory," was developed by Elaine Cumming and William Henry in the late 1950s. It suggested that falling away from traditional social commitments was a normal part of aging. From this perspective, old age is the separation from society and the elderly, men retire and women become widows.

Several social psychological theories of aging, such as Robert Atchley's "continuity theory" and notions of "successful aging", were inspired by "activity theory".

According to continuity theory, derived from "development" or "life cycle" theory, older people have the desire and inclination to maintain the same personalities, routines, and beliefs that have shaped them throughout their lives.

Aging successfully involves maintaining a mature and integrated personality, which is also the cornerstone of a fulfilling life. As a result, a decrease in physical activity or social engagement is believed to be more related to changes in physical functioning and health than a fundamental need to change or relinquish previous responsibilities.

A life course perspective on old age

The life course approach is another effective method that goes beyond individual age adjustment and is also inspired by the age stratification model. In this study, the aging of individuals and cohorts is considered as a life stage. They are affected by historical, social, economic and environmental problems from an early age.

By considering connections between social structure, social processes, and sociopsychological conditions, life course theory creates a connection between macro and micro levels of study.

The central principles of the approach according to Passuth and Bengston in Sociological Theories of Aging (1996) are:

(1) Aging is a continuous process from birth to death (which distinguishes this theory from those that focus exclusively on older people);

(2) aging involves social, psychological and biological processes; AND

(3) Aging experiences are determined by historical factors of the cohort.

Neo-Marxist perspectives on old age

Neo-Marxist perspectives such as political economy theory began to influence aging research in the early 1980s. With the work of Carroll Estes and Alan Walker in the late 1970s and early 1980s, this task of articulating the different contributions from capitalism and the State to systems of domination and marginalization of the elderly was addressed for the first time.

Cultural and humanistic gerontology

Cultural and humanistic gerontology, often known as moral economics or cultural gerontology in general, is another crucial method. The traditional theoretical antagonism of structure versus agency and culture versus structure has given way to an awareness of the interaction and "recursive" connections between culture, agency and structure. Thomas Cole and Harry Moody originally established this approach.

A growing body of views, including cultural gerontology, contradicts the notion that the economy alone determines social institutions such as the state and pensions. The method offers a restatement of unidirectional causality that follows the traditional base/superstructure model of Marxism.

As a result, emphasis increased on resolving difficulties related to meaning and experience later in life, and serious concerns were raised about the ability of Western civilization to provide sufficient moral resources to sustain people's lives.

Aging - identity and self

Concepts of aging based on concerns about identity and the self gained prominence. In The Body (1991), Mike Hepworth and Mike Featherstone pointed out that aging is best understood as a mask. Here, the outward appearances of physical aging are contrasted with a true youthful self. According to the idea of ​​the "mask of aging", the aging body becomes a prison from which a younger self-identity cannot escape.

Despite its malleability, the body can provide access to many consumer identities. But as we age, it becomes more complex and difficult to "recycle" the defective body, preventing the elderly from entering this realm of choice.

In The Mature Imagination (1999), Simon Biggs argues that the conflict between the inner and outer worlds can leave older people feeling at war with themselves as they struggle with the desire for youthful expression and the vulnerabilities that the aging body brings. with you.

Biographical perspectives on old age

Another critical area of ​​research in gerontology is biographical perspectives. Biographical or "life history" studies have a long history in the social sciences. For example, Peter Coleman, James Birren, Joanna Bornat, Paul Thompson, and Gary Kenyon have made significant contributions to the study of aging using biographical and life history methods.

According to Birren's famously edited book, Aging and Biography (1996), biographical techniques can help us capture unique and common elements of aging across the lifespan. It has been suggested that studying responses to personal crises and tipping points may provide scientists with unique insights into the way people live their lives. Studying people's lives also offers insights into the impact of social institutions, including the family, the workplace, and the workplace.

Thus, information about a person's life helps researchers understand what Ruth and Kenyon call the opportunities and constraints imposed on them by their historical time.

The political-economic perspective of old age

National economists focus on how economic and political systems, as well as other social structures and social forces, shape and reproduce current power structures and inequalities in society. In so doing, they distinguish themselves from the liberal-pluralist theory prevalent in political theory and sociology.

From the political-economic point of view, social policies related to retirement, health, benefits and social rights are studied as a result of institutional and individual forces, as well as economic, political and socio-cultural processes that converge during a socio-historical period specific.

Social policy results from disputes, struggles and power relations prevailing at the time.

The structure and culture of advantage and disadvantage is reflected in the politics of relations by class, race/ethnicity, gender and age. The life chances and situations of individuals and demographic groups, such as the elderly, are significantly influenced by social policies.

aging and globalization

Another fundamental problem that affects both theories of aging and the everyday life of the elderly is globalization. The interaction between demographic change, especially increased life expectancy, and events related to political and cultural globalization lead to significant growth at the macro level.

Living in a connected world makes it more important to consider issues such as cultural diversity, different perspectives on aging and the definition of an elderly person.

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