Define old age? [8mk]

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  • Created by: Vasu Dev
  • Created on: 20-01-13 11:12
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Age as a sociological concept refers to an individual's `time period' in his/her
life course. Age for sociologists is a `cultural construct'. In other words, the time
periods and the identity associated with them are culture specific. Even within
the same culture these would vary according to gender, social class and
ethnicity. Individuals are socialised by agents such as family, education, peer
group, media, religion and workplace into these age identities. The most
common classification of these `time periods with distinct identities are: youth,
middle and old age.
Old age, for instance, is associated with a `stereotype identity' comprising
values and lifestyle such as; limited competence, vulnerability, dependence,
loneliness, poor health, unable to learn newer skills, inflexibility or rigidity,
immobility, need care and protection. Such an identity often results in
marginalisation and stigmatisation of old persons as `inferior' (Pilcher 1996).
However, this stereotype identity is not shared equally by different social
classes. This negative identity weakens as one moves upwards in the class
From a Marxian perspective, age identities are a function of the capitalist
mode of production. In other words, such identities exist to perpetuate class
Functionalists such as Talcott Parsons on the other hand, would see such
identities as useful institutions serving the purpose of maintaining social order.
Post-modernists such as, Daniel Bell would view age identities as constantly
evolving under structural influences such as: globalization, introduction of
`game changing' technologies, production shifting from manufacturing to
services. They also factor increased reflexive individualization in understanding
the social construct of identity. Therefore, identity related boundaries are
blurring and overlapping. They are also splitting-up with the emergence of new
sub-categories such as `oldest-old' and `young-elderly' (McKingsley 2001).


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