Social Construction of Ageing

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Social Construction of Ageing

The perception of ‘ageing’ is tied to history and culture of each society and in this way it is a social process. Historically, different societies and cultures have reacted to older persons in different ways. Views towards ageing are influenced by a large number of factors, including the historical era, ethnicity and culture, lifespan, economic conditions, social expectations and portrayals of the elderly in the media. Socially, ‘old people’, used to be a relatively rare phenomenon. The way that older persons are viewed by a society will be dependant on which theories of ageing that hold currency at any point in time.

The different theories can be divided into two broad categories:
Functionalist:
• functionalism is a major theoretical framework within sociological theory – it views society as a complex system of parts that are interrelated and work together to maintain stability
• applied to ageing, it takes the gradual physical and mental decline occurs with ageing as being functional
• the unequal status of older people relative to the younger is viewed as an inevitable outcome – their mutual ‘disengagement’ from society is seen as beneficial as they prepare for the inevitably of death
• this is considered necessary, as if a society is to outlive its members, there must be an orderly transition from the old to the young (eg leaving the workforce to be replaced by younger workers)  phase out those who do not contribute
• social norms have developed to facilitate this process (eg retirement at age 65)
• the social status of older people are explained by this process

Conflict:
age categories are seen as social strata that are ranked in hierarchy’s of power, prestige and wealth
these age categories are in constant competition for scarce social resources
each age category has its own interests that it defends (eg the young and resources for education; the middle aged and tax rates; the aged and social welfare/security benefits)
as society has only limited resources  one age categories gain is another’s loss
in this conflict view – the most powerful age category will be able to secure a disproportionate share of society’s resources
this approach would explain the decline in social status of the elderly as being a result of the middle age category being able to wrest control of society’s resources from the older age category
in recent times, the older age groups have become a more powerful social movement and are challenging the structural inequality

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