206 Outcome: Aging

Evaluate the aging of society and summarize the theoretical perspectives on aging

Think of U.S. movies and television shows you have watched recently. Did any of them feature older actors and actresses? What roles did they play? How were these older actors portrayed? Were they cast as main characters in a love story? Or were they cast as grouchy old people?

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?

One hindrance to society’s fuller understanding of aging is that people rarely understand the process of aging until they reach old age themselves. (As opposed to childhood, for instance, which we can all look back on.) Therefore, myths and assumptions about the elderly and aging are common. Many stereotypes exist surrounding the realities of being an older adult. While individuals often encounter stereotypes associated with race and gender and are thus more likely to think critically about them, many people accept age stereotypes without question (Levy 2002). Each culture has a certain set of expectations and assumptions about aging, all of which are part of our socialization.

While the landmarks of maturing into adulthood are a source of pride, signs of natural aging can be cause for shame or embarrassment. Some people try to fight off the appearance of aging with cosmetic surgery. Although many seniors report that their lives are more satisfying than ever, and their self-esteem is stronger than when they were young, they are still subject to cultural attitudes that make them feel invisible and devalued. In this section, we’ll examine aging in America and abroad and look at the theoretical perspectives on aging.

What you’ll learn to do:

  • Understand the difference between senior age groups (young-old, middle-old, and old-old)
  • Describe the “graying of the United States” as the population experiences increased life expectancies
  • Examine aging as a global issue
  • Compare and contrast sociological theoretical perspectives on aging

Learning Activities

The learning activities for this section include:

  • Reading: Aging in Society
  • Reading: The Graying of the United States
  • Reading: Aging Around the World
  • Reading: Theoretical Perspectives on Aging
  • Self-Check: Aging

License

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Introduction to Sociology by Lumen Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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