Modern Society Views of Aging

Topics: Adult

The following sample essay on views aging as a form of sickness. Modern society views aging as a form of sickness and the elderly as persons who are closer to dying and death. This is what is often portrayed in our mass and social media. When considering issues of aging sociologists have found that more positive characteristics are often said for persons under sixty five years than for over sixty five years.

For instance , growth and development, beauty, good health, happiness are more likely to be listed as characteristics of being under sixty five years, whereas decline health, loneliness undesired physical appearance are likely to be listed for erson’s over sixty five years.

According to the Centre of Confidence and well being (n. d) reports stereotypes of the elderly as being needy, unhappy, senile, unable to learn new things and less useful than their younger counterparts. The author overview of this paper in conclusion we shall first address the factors that may be responsible for the modern day perception of the elderly, theoretical perspectives on aging, effects of ageism and the changes that society can make to eliminate the negative perceptions of aging.

The elders in our society was not always iewed negatively according to gerontologist David Hackett Fisher who noted that literature from the seventeenth and eighteenth century colonial American stressed deference and respect for the elderly. He maintains that the elderly were held in veneration. In European culture the image of the elderly was dominated for a long time by the ambivalent traditions.

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The elderly was both seen as a wise and dignified as well as the old fool.

Literature in pre-industrial France according to Jean-Pierre Gutton, marked by this twofold traditions. Seventeenth-century poetry on the other hand held a more positive view of the aged. In general the image of the elderly in pre-industrial France was more negative than positive. This changed after 1750 under the influence of Romanticism when the image of the wise old men and women acquired additional significance. The elderly came to symbolize virtue and reason.

Different cultures treat the elderly in different ways. Cox (1998) notes research showing an inverse relationship “between the degree of modernization and the status accorded old persons” (Cox, 1998, 1), which means that in the more industrialized nations, the older person has a lower status than is the case in less industrialized nations. This is something we can see all around us as our own culture celebrates youth to the exclusion of the old and has been charged with throwing away older people.

Despite industrialization of the Asian society according to Erdman Falmore’s we witness evidence of Falmore’s observation that Japan, whose level of industrialization matches American’s own, nevertheless maintains a strong tradition of filial piety and successful integration of elderly citizens into community life. There appears to be a great variation as to the treatment that older adults receive, ranging from extreme reverence and respect to bandonment and deprivation, McTavish (1971) reviewed the methodology and findings of a broad range of studies dealing with perceptions of old age.

He states, “Most investigators report findings which support the view that attitudes toward the modernization to the point of generally negative view in industrialized Western nations” (p. 91). In other words, the more “civilized” the society is, the more likely they are to be ageist and maintain negative attitudes about the aged. For instance men in the Middle East view old age as life’s summit (Slater, 1964). Older men are viewed as having attained high status and prestige. In fact, according to Slater, the word “sheik” originally meant “old man”.

Women’s status and power does increase in many cultures following menopause. Okada (1962, cited in Gutmann, 1985) states that the old widow has great power in the Japanese family. Women in many small scale traditional societies also enjoy an increase in status (Brown, 1985). Post-menopausal women in these societies usually experience greater sexual freedom, the right to participate in ritual, the right to participate in the political realm of the society, and a decrease in the amount of work required in the home. With regard to work, the older oman is expected to be leisured.

The cross-cultural differences in attitudes towards the aged may in part be due to different societal perspectives. In most western cultures the elderly today are hardly regarded with religious awe or reverence. They have become virtual outcasts of society, many living on the fringe, often in retirement communities or in nursing homes. William Withers states that “modern cultures have coped with the death of the aged, minimizing its disruptiveness, by disengaging the elderly from the vital functions of society’ (518). In most modern society, emphasis and value are placed on youth, with advertising eared toward and glamorizing the young.

In the entertainment industry which has a big influence on culture aging is seen as a shameful thing when in reality it’s a natural process. Aging gracefully is a thing of the past when there is pressure to stay young with technological advances by performing invasive cosmetic surgeries to fight the aging process and different types of ageing products. Aging in todays society is seen more as a disease than a natural process. The elderly are victims of mistaken beliefs and irrational attitudes promulgated by society, largely through the various mass media.

Considering this phenomena which emerged during the twentieth century and their relationship to the changes in economics and social policy during that time in order to understand the way in which society conceptualizes and organize, sometimes through social policy, an age grouping to meet its perceived values, ideas or needs. The “pensioner” a term which did not exist in the earlier part of the last century but one which is now applied collectively to all those who are reaching “retirement age”, are forced to retire from employment in order to create jobs for younger members of society.

For many elders this is a sentence to live on a vastly reduced income, whereas for others it is a time of choice and opportunity to spend more time with friends and family. However this is fluid and dependent on the demographics and economy of the society, the retirement age in the I-JK is set to rise to sixty-six years in 2024, sixty-seven years in 2034, sixty-eight years in 2044 for both sexes (Department of Work and Pensions, 2006). The position of the aged in modern society is clearly a reflection of the process of disengagement, referred to by Morgan & Kunkel (1998) in terms of retirement.

Disengagement should be a social process that moves older people into a new arrangement, but still “into full participation within the social world” (Morgan & Kunkel, 1998, 6). Disengagement this willingly and with the approval of successive generations who benefit via the enhanced employment opportunities which then become available. By contrast, activity theorists argues that the only way to resist disengagement was to maintain a “middle age” lifestyle (Fennell Phillipson and Evers, 1989).

Although critics have argued that, many older people do withdraw from the public sphere, there is little vidence to suggest that they do so voluntarily; rather, aging practices such as low retirement income and dependency creating services restrict most of them their capacity to remain active citizens. A political economy perspective on aging also points to increasing polarity of the aging experience, ranging from social exclusion of those older people living in areas of extreme economic deprivation (Schaef et al. 2002 ) to those “young at heart”, fit and wealthy older people who are the new “niche” makers of the tourism and travel industry (Warnes et el. , 1999; Ylanne-McEwen, 1999). American society has been described as maintaining a stereotypic and often negative perception of older adults (Busse, 1968). This negative and/or stereotypic perception of aging and aged individuals is readily apparent in such areas as language, media, and humor. For example, such commonly used phrases as “over the hill” and “don’t be an old fuddy-duddy” denote old age as a period of impotency and incompetency (Nuessel, 1982).

The term used to describe this stereotypic and often negative bias against older adults is “ageism” (Butler, 1969). Ageism can be defined as “any attitude, action, or institutional structure which ubordinates a person or group because of age or any assignment of roles in society purely on the basis of age” (Traxler, 1980, p. 4). As an “ism”, ageism reflects a prejudice in society against older adults. According to Bytheway (1995), ageism exists throughout the life course. Ageism consists ofa negative bias or stereotypic attitude toward aging and the aged.

It is maintained in the form of primarily negative stereotypes and myths concerning the older adult. Traxler (1980) outlines four factors that have contributed to this negative image of aging. The factor that is postulated to ontribute to ageism is the fear of death in Western society. Western civilization conceptualizes death as outside of the human life cycle (Butler & Lewis, 1977). As such, death is experienced and viewed as an affront to the self. Death is not seen as natural and inevitable part of the life course therefore, death is feared.

As death is feared, old age is feared; death and old age are viewed as synonymous in American society (Kastenbaum, 1979). Kastenbaum (1973) hypothesizes that ageism attitudes and stereotypes serve to insulate the young and middle-aged from the ambivalence they feel towards the elderly. This ambivalence results from the fact that the older adult is viewed as representing aging and death. Butler (1969) states: “Ageism reflects a deep seated uneasiness on the part of the young and middle-aged – a personal revulsion to and distaste for growing old, disease, disability; and a fear of powerlessness, ‘uselessness’, and death” ((p. 43). This represents the most commonly argued basis for ageism. Furthermore according to Traxler (1980) to contribute to ageism is the emphasis on the youth culture in American society. For example, the media, ranging from television to novels, place an emphasis on youth, hysical beauty, and sexuality. Older adults are primarily ignored or portrayed negatively (Martel, 1968; Northcott, 1975). The emphasis on youth not only affects themselves. Persons who are dependent on physical appearance and youth for their identity are likely to experience loss of self-esteem with age (Block, Davidson, & Grumbs, 1981).

The emphasis in American culture productivity contributes to ageism in American culture (Traxler, 1980). It should be noted that productivity is narrowly defined in terms of economic potential. Both ends of the life cycle are iewed as unproductive, children and the aged. The middle-aged are perceived as carrying the burdens imposed by both groups (Butler, 1969). Children, however, are viewed as having future economic potential. In a way, they are seen as an economic investment. Economically, older adults are perceived as a financial liability.

This is not to say that older adults are unproductive. However, upon retirement, the older adult is no longer viewed as economically productive in American society and thus devalued. As a result of living in an ageist society, many older people internalize geist views, because ageist towards their peers, and try to distance themselves from other “old people”. Furthermore, poorly controlled gerontological studies have reinforced the negative image of the older adult. However, there appears to be a large societal influence on ageist attitudes.

Therefore, until these societal influences are addressed, ageism cannot be obliterated. For example, if the fear of death and therefore aging is not somehow addressed societally, then younger individuals will continue to attempt to make the older population somehow different from themselves. This differentiation of themselves from older adults, thus serves to protect them from the reality of death. In working with older people we must recognize that our starting point is one of disadvantage and discrimination rather than equality.

According to Hughes(1997), anti ageist practice embodies personhood ascribes to all people of all ages the autheriticity and worth of being alive and of having lived; citizenship relationship between the individual and society and how the relationship is defined; emphasizes rights of individual reciprocal responsibilities of individual and society; validates membership of society. Age is to be celebrated as an achievement and as a period to be valued in its own right.

As a society we can make the necessary changes to eliminate the negative perceptions of aging, address the factors that may be responsible for the modern day perception of the elderly.

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Modern Society Views of Aging. (2018, Jun 17). Retrieved from

Modern Society Views of Aging
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