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Social Problems

Aging and Ageism

The Social problem of Ageism


Concept of the Life Course


patterned sequence of experiences

influenced by aspects of age such as
maturity, decline, generation, survival, and
the life cycle
There are expected and experienced life
courses in every society
We follow known age related patterns
May be a gap between the two > can be
cause of distress or disappointment

Problems Over the Life Course

The Life Course
1. Childhood:

Poor children have more problems

Increased obesity among all children

2. Adolescence:

Early teens cannot do legally what later teens can

Poor teens less likely to have a job or be in school
Young people are staying at home much longer
delaying the next stage

Problems (cont.)
3. Young Adulthood
Traditionally the time to get established,
but now is more difficult, if not postponed
4. Middle Age
Income and prestige are at the peak, but
signs of physical aging begin, e.g.,
wrinkles, stiffness, decline of senses, etc.
This is the sandwich generation

Problems (cont.)
5. Late Maturity and Old Age
Older people are an increasing percentage of
the population
Young-old (65-74 yrs) are very active
Middle-old (75-84 yrs)
Old-old (85+ yrs)

Although majority not lonely, living in an institution, or

poor, a significant number are experiencing problems
In U.S. in 2005, 70,000 centenarians (Anguera, 2005)
Canada: 4,600 in 2007

Suicide and the Life Course

Around the world older people have a much
higher suicide rate than do younger
In Canada:
Men: rates rise from teen years, decline to
later maturity, and rise a little for 75+ yrs
Women: have lower rates with a high
point at 45-59 yrs
While there is a gender difference, and
suicide does tend to increase for elderly
men, no age seems significantly more

Suicide by Age
(Kendall et al. 2008)

Attitudes toward Aging


other cultures revere the elderly, but

Western culture worships youth
Eg. What were the results of your IAT??
Our social institutions, especially the media,
help to create negative stereotypes toward
aging and the aged
This is ageism
Ageism negatively affects those who are
discriminated against

Changing the Stereotype:

The Zimmers


Zimmers and My Generation


Some Zimmer Facts

* In 2000, there were 600 million people aged 60
and over; there will be 1.2 billion by 2025 and 2
billion by 2050.
* Today, about two thirds of all older people are
living in the developing world; by 2025, it will be
* In the developed world, the very old (age 80+) is
the fastest growing population group.
* Women outlive men in virtually all societies;
consequently in very old age, the ratio of
women/men is 2:1.

Ageism as a Social Problem


prejudice and discrimination

against people on the basis of age


Age: based on date of birth

Age: observable individual

attributes such as physical appearance,
mobility, strength, mental capacity, etc.
used to assign people to age categories

Age-Based Stereotypes*

Young children: rug rats

Old people: greedy geezers
Inverted U curve: older and younger are rated
lower in status than younger and middle-aged
*For more on age based stereotypes of the
elderly, especially in media, see Attacking
Ageism in Advertising by Robert Wood at
*Or watch:
Images Of Aging: Stereotypes And Ageism In Society
(2005) with Joaquin Anguera, Ph.D., Professor,
Department of Gerontology at San Diego State
University (You can also find it by searching for

Societal Examples of Ageism


of focus on elder issues

Invisibility of older members of society
Elder products, including media articles
relegated to specialty sections
Paternalistic treatment of the elderly
Focus on shortcomings, illness rather than
stregths and contributions of the elderly
(from Anguera, 2005)

Consequences of Ageism

Stereotypes become self-fulfilling prophecy

(one experiment shows that being treated in stereotypical

manner can affect physical health and appearance as well
as psychological well being of elderly)

Forced to conform to stereotypes

Loss of freedom and efficacy in many areas leads to
more rapid aging
Lowered self esteem and personal happiness
Exclusion from normal social interaction and social
relationships leads to loss of essential social support

Age Stratification Theory

Age Stratification: the inequalities,
differences, segregation between age groups.
Focus on the role of social structures in the process
of aging and the stratification of people by age.
Also analyzes the movement of age cohorts over
the life cycle
Canada has an aging population
Factors related to an aging population:

emigration of young people

an influx of seniors
low birth rates

Problems Related to Age

Workplace discrimination: younger workers
are preferred

Debate should there be a mandatory

retirement age?
No longer in Ontario and some other provinces
But many people, e.g., small business owners,
women working part-time, may not have

Are There Economic Problems

Related to Aging Population?


societies with a high proportion of very old people

face a special problem because the elderly
consume a high proportion of the national
economy in the form of supports


new research and thinking

contradicts this traditional thought:

Ageing and elderly people may be a social

resource rather than a drain

He ain't heavy, he's my boomer

(Andrew Chung, The Toronto Star, May 27, 2007)

A new international study forcefully argues

against this idea and tries to put the lie to some of
the many doomsday scenarios that have floated
around for the last 20 years about our aging
populace. In fact, there is a growing line of defence
around the seniors and the almost-seniors, which
regards as shaky the desperate claims of future tax
bills spiking to meet their public spending and health
care requirements
Read the full article at:

Older workers a drain? Not a

chance, study finds
(Virginia Galt, Globe and Mail May 23, 2007)

Meet the new tax gusher: the golden-age

employee. Working Canadians between the ages of
60 and 79 contribute more than $2.2-billion each
year in tax payments on employment income - and
there is every indication that the populous baby
boom generation coming up behind them intends to
stay even more connected to work, HSBC Bank
Canada said yesterday in issuing the results of a
global survey conducted by Oxford University's
Institute of Ageing


Social Problems Related to Aging


elderly in Canada are less destitute than

those in other countries, but many continue to
face economic strain
Feminization of aging: older women
tend to have fewer resources
Family Problems and Social Isolation:

Many seniors live alone

Suffer from loneliness, boredom
Problem of the tea-and-toasters
But many, especially women, have
networks of family and friends

Social (cont.)

downturns in the economy, employers

often target elderly workers in order to cut
Elderly people often face job discrimination as
they are still expected to retire at age 65
For instance, a recent article in the Globe and
Mail refers to older workers as a pain:

Baby Boomers a pain to work with, say young'uns

(by Virginia Galt, Globe and Mail,

Social (cont.)

Victimization: on the whole, although seniors

are less likely to be victims of crime, scams
involving elderly people and elder abuse are
often in the news.
An example, from the Globe and Mail:

Teen arrested in beating of 97-year-old (by Armina

Ligaya, May 24, 2007) Burnaby RCMP have arrested an 18year-old man in connection with the home invasion and
assault of a 97-year-old woman who lived alone.

Incidents like the one above lead to fear,

powerlessness and a loss of sense of control

Health Problems Related to Aging


and mental abilities tend to deteriorate

Transition to elderly status often a difficult one

Can result in depression leading to further problems


abuse is another concern

Physical, sexual, emotional and/or psychological

abuse have become social problems that endanger
the health of the elderly


and a fear of being victimized are

other notable problems

Use of Health Care


seniors living at home report

good health
Seniors account for one-third of
health care spending in Canada,
but they are not likely to bankrupt
the system
Again, see He ain't heavy, he's my
boomer by Andrew Chung at

Housing Patterns and LongTerm-Care Facilities

Maintaining ones home is increasingly
costly, especially for single or widowed
7% of seniors live in institutions
Some long-term-care facilities are excellent,
but some depersonalize individuals
Some institutions may be sub-standard
Increasing reports of elder abuse in

Social Support for Aging and

Elderly People

life satisfaction for the elderly linked to

better health
Factors related to life satisfaction:

Social and family support

Marital status
High levels of religious activity

Sociological Perspectives
Disengagement Theory:

Older people want to be released from social

Permits transfer of responsibilities to the next
Critique: Many older people disengaged because
of rules, not by choice. The consequence is that
they are removed from positions of power and
influence. Many elderly wish to and do continue to
work in paid and volunteer jobs.

Perspectives (cont.)

theorists argue that ageism is a form

of inequality plied by the younger majority to
further their own interests
We are losing a valued resource by
marginalizing the elderly

Perspectives (cont.)

symbolic interactionists focus on how socially

constructed definitions of age and aging affect a
person's experience of growing old

Activity Theory:
Older people who are active are happier and
better adjusted, and older people find
meaningful substitutes for previous roles
Critique: Older may not wish or be able to
maintain active lifestyles

Perspectives (cont.)
Senior women have
Much lower incomes than senior men

Should improve with women in the labour



disability than senior men

Feminist theories stress that aging has more
negative consequences for women than it
does for men

Improving Quality of Life

Tepperman et al. suggest:

Use of the telephone and new technology like the

Internet as a means of delivering some of the needed
Teaching people to help themselves by learning how
to age effectively through anticipatory socialization
Lobbying, to increase public awareness of their special
Pressing government for improvements to current
standard of living.
Calling for government legislation aimed at shaping
the physical environment in a way that will increase
the independence and mobility of elderly people.