INEQUALITY BASED ON AGE
The study of nonphysical aspects of aging is called social gerontology. Social gerontologists focus on the life course, age based categories through which people pass as they grow older.
The life course includes infancy, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, young old, old-old, and oldest-old. Adolescence is a concept that emerged in the twentieth century. It is a narrow path between childhood and adulthood in which adolescents face an identity crisis and difficult decisions regarding sex, their relationship with others, and what they wish to become.
As people progress through middle age, they experience primary aging or senescence. This is the molecular and cellular changes in the body. Secondary aging is based on environmental factors and lifestyle choices. Old age is generally regarded as beginning in the late 60s or 70s. The young old are 65 to 74, the old-old 75 to 84, and the oldest age 85 and above. The dramatic increase in the number of people comprising the categories of “old” has resulted in the graying of America. This includes the aging of the population due to the increase in life expectancy combined with a decrease in the birth rate.
Because of medical advances and the increase in life expectancy, death is viewed as the stage of the life course that usually occurs in old age. How people cope with death and denying is approached from three widely known frameworks. These include the stage-based approached, the dying trajectory, and task-based approach. The stage based approach developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross has five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The concept of dying trajectory focuses on the perceived course of dying and the expected time of death. The task-based approach suggests daily activities can be enjoyed during the dying process. Because of advances in medical care that can prolong biological life through elaborate life-support systems, many people are signing living wills about the medical circumstances around which their life should be allowed to end.
Throughout the life course age stratification occurs. This is the inequalities, differences, segregation, or conflict between age groups. Despite the passage of the Age Discrimination and Employment Act in 1967 subtle forms of age discrimination within the workplace remain. One of these inequalities was compulsory retirement laws requiring people to retire at age 65, regardless of their health or desire to continue working.
One of the most important issues for older Americans is health care. Most Americans over the age of 65 are provided healthcare through Medicare with others receiving Medicaid. Seven out of ten deaths among older Americans can be attributed to cancer, heart disease, or stroke. Among white women, cancer is the number one cause of death. Men are highly vulnerable to cancer of the prostrate gland. Because of failing health and the provisions of federally funded health care for the elderly, people age 65 and over account for one-third of all dollars spent on health care.
The elderly are potential targets for economic victimization through trickery, deceit, and fraud. They may also suffer physical, emotional, and even sexual abuse as a result of neglect. Many analysts believe elder abuse is underreported. This may be due to seniors being ashamed to report it, afraid of the consequences, or too confused.
One of the common stereotypes is that most elderly people are living in nursing homes, retirement communities, or other institutions for the aged. Contrary to this myth, 49 percent of women and 21 percent of men over the age of seventy-five live alone. Only about five percent of older people live in any kind of institution.
The three major sociological perspectives focus on different aspects of aging and social inequality. Functionalists emphasize disengagement theory, a theory suggesting that older people want to be released from societal expectations of productivity and competitiveness. The symbolic interactionist perspective stresses interactionist activities theory. This theory is based on the assumption that older people who are active are happier and better adjusted than less active older persons. Conflict theorists focus on the political economy of aging in analyzing the problems of older people in contemporary capitalistic societies.
Reductions in age-based inequality in the 21st century will have many bridges to cross. The increasing dependency ratio will place economic strain on younger workers. Families and social institutions will need to make changes to be able to accommodate a growing senior citizen population. Other analysts call for seniors to become more reliant on themselves.