Sociological Theories/Models of Ageing

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Sociological Theories/Models of Ageing

Sociological theories of ageing focus on explaining the roles and responsibilities within society that individuals engage in during later life. Society values change with time, which influence views of ageing and the role of older persons in society.

Disengagement Theory :
Old age is viewed as a separate life stage rather than a developmental stage. As people get older, they withdraw from society, seek more passive roles and give up specific social roles (eg involvement in community activities or employment). It was seen as a mutual activity – as the individual withdraws from society, society disengages or separates from the individual (eg retirement). Thus, this withdrawal is implicitly supported by society, by the virtue of being old and is seen as functional because it serves both society and the individual. The individual can now reflect and focus on self having been freed from roles in society. For society it is seen as the means by which power and social roles are passed from the old to the young. Historically, successful ageing was considered compatible with this withdrawal from society and it was thought that this would result in greater life satisfaction. This functionalist theory evolved during the 1950’s and when social conditions were different. It is no longer widely supported as the beliefs are not supported by research and the research indicates that the withdrawal from society is not mutual but is initiated by forces beyond the control of the older person. Social policy is a major force in creating the conditions for disengagement (eg provision of pensions, retirement age).

Continuity/Developmental/Life cycle Theory:
People of all ages are not alike (they are heterogenous), so the same personality characteristics, lifestyle, values, beliefs, habits, preferences, etc, that have been developed during adulthood are continued into older age. How they have been during their life, they will remain. Those who where active, will remain the same (given physical limitations). Old age is not viewed as the end part of life, but as a continuum of the earlier part of life.

Person-Environment/Exchange Theory:
Personal competencies that mold and develop people as individuals and allow them to adapt to life’s activities/stresses change with ageing  affects the ability of the older persons to interrelate with the environment. They will continue to interact with the environment and adapt for as long as the benefits outweigh the costs – there will be a ‘psychological’ weighing up of the cost-benefit of social interaction. The problems of ageing are seen as an outcome of the declining influence and power related to them having to little to exchange with society that is of instrumental value.

Age Stratification Theory:
Society consists of groups of cohorts that age together – each cohort will be influenced by others and different historical events  each age cohort will develop its own subculture, values, norms and views as it moves through time. The older person is viewed as a member of society, that is influenced by a number of processes in the social environment – there is an interdependence between older individuals and society that are constantly influencing each other.

Activity/Development Task Theory:
Social activity is considered essential for physical and emotional well-being – how we see ourselves is based on the activities that we engage in. Activity and involvement as much as possible is needed to age successfully and positively, for psychological well being and to maintain a personal life satisfaction. Ageing is seen as a development of the rest of adult age as we continue to have the same values and needs  continue with life activities developed earlier. By remaining active and involved, the older person maintains a positive self-concept and does not withdraw from society, as they are ‘old’. For example, the status that is lost from retirement can be replaced by being a volunteer. This could be considered the opposite of the ‘rocking chair’ view of old age. However, a correlation between age and activity level has not been shown.

Labelling Theory:
In a youth and health preoccupied society  “old age” is socially seen as an abnormal condition. Older members of the society are expected to take on the behaviours and characteristics of the label (eg retirement  not undertake ‘youthful’ activities or otherwise seen as ‘deviant’; “you can’t teach on old dog new tricks”). This view may also be perpetuated by older people when they constrain their own activities (“act their age”). Putting labels (eg ‘geriatric’) means that they will inevitably act out that behaviour. Self perception has profound impacts on how people of any age perform – they pick up on expectations.

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