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  1. 1. OCR AS Sociology <br />Exploring Socialization, Culture & Identity<br />The Sociology of Age Identities <br /> <br />Introduction<br />The sociology of age and the life course is a neglected area of study. The concept of age is a simple one: it refers to the time elapsed since an individual was born. This is sometimes known as chronological age. <br />Ideas of age and ageing are often seen in biological and psychological terms. Birth, developing to physical maturity, ageing and death are part of universal biological processes which affect all human beings. These processes are linked to the psychological development of individuals. Many psychologists have suggested that there are distinct phases of psychological development which correspond to biological ageing. <br />Sociologists do not question the idea that age and ageing are linked to biological and psychological development, but they argue that they cannot be fully understood without reference to their social context. Just as 'race' and sex were once seen in purely biological/psychological terms but are now viewed sociologically through concepts such as ethnicity and gender, age can also be seen in sociological terms. From this perspective, age can be seen as, in part, a social construction. <br />For example, the meanings, roles and identities associated with being a particular age vary from society to society. Historical research suggests that the idea of a prolonged childhood during which it is inappropriate for the young to do paid work is a relatively recent phenomenon. In medieval Europe, 'children' were expected to work and take part in adult social life from a very young age.<br />Similarly, the meaning of old age varies from society to society. In some traditional societies, the elderly are revered for their wisdom and have high social status and considerable power. As Giddens (2006) points out, this has traditionally been the case in China and Japan. However, Giddens notes that in contemporary Western societies the elderly tend to be seen as 'non-productive, dependent people who are out of step with the times'. On the other hand, youth is valued to such an extent that a fortune is spent on attempts by individuals to make themselves appear or feel younger. Cosmetic surgery, Viagra (the anti-impotence drug), skin creams and makeover TV programmes all offer the promise of rejuvenation. <br />The meaning of age is also linked to the longevity of people in different societies. A particular chronological age has a very different meaning in a society where life expectancy is less than 40 years compared to in a society where life expectancy is over 70. <br />In 2004 life expectancy at birth in Zimbabwe was 38 for males and 37 for females, but in Britain it was 76 for males and 81 for females. In Switzerland it was even higher, with men living on average until 79 and women until 84 (World Bank, 2007). Stephen Hunt (2005) points <br />out that in the UK as recently as 1900 life expectancy for women was around 48 years and for men around 50. <br />These differences in life expectancy have been attribbuted to a variety of social factors, and in turn they influence what is considered old in different societies at different times. <br />Because of the variations in the meaning of age in different societies, Giddens argues that sociologists should analyse age in terms of social age rather than chronological or biological age. By social age he means 'the norms, values and roles that are culturally associated with a particular chronological age. Ideas about social age differ from one society to another and, at least in modern industrial societies, change over time as well'.<br />Age is not just of sociological importance because its meaning varies from society to society, but also because it is an aspect of stratification. As mentioned above, the status and power of the elderly vary between societies. However, all types of inequality can be shaped by age. <br />John A. Vincent (2006) notes that 'The roles and norms that society allocates to age groups create barriers and opportunities'. These barriers and opportunities affect the status, power, wealth and income enjoyed by different age groups in each society. Thus, to use a simple example, in Britain those over 65 have much less opportunity to participate in the labour market than adults under this age. Although there are some very wealthy older people, those old enough to draw their pension have high rates of poverty in Britain. <br />The contemporary UK has an ageing population. Social Trends 33 (2003) report said that between 1971-2001: People aged over 65 rose from 13%-16%; People are living longer Life expectancy in the UK increased from 69-75 years for men and from 75-80 years for women<br />Evaluation - Bradley (1997) argues that age is less important to identify than other factors (i.e. gender, class & ethnicity) as people know it is only temporary. Everyone grows older<br />Jane Pilcher (1995) – The sociological study of age<br />The different stages of life (including childhood, adolescence, parenthood, retirement, old age, dying) are sometimes described as a life cycle. Life cycle implies a series of inevitable stages through which you pass based upon biological ageing. Many sociologists now prefer to use the term life course to life cycle. <br />Pitcher (1995) defines the life course as 'a socially defined "timetable" of behaviours deemed as appropriate for particular stages within anyone society'. This implies that the expected behaviour can vary between societies, over time and between different groups in society, for example: <br />Western societies view youthfulness as having a higher status than non-western societies. <br />Some minority ethnic groups are more deferent to the elderly than the white ethnic majority. <br />Attitudes towards childhood have changed over time (see below). <br />From this viewpoint chronological age (the number of years lived) does not determine the nature of age groupings in society (childhood, youth, old age etc.) which are largely a social construct - their meaning is defined by society. Postmodernists such as Featherstone & Hepworth (1991) believe that even the life course has been deconstructed (broken down) so there are no clear distinctions between the behaviour expected at different stages of life. For example, middle-aged people take part in youthful sports; surgery can minimize the appearance of ageing; children are less segregated from adult life than they were; elderly people are healthier than in the past and less likely to feel restricted by age. Personal age (how old you feel) is more important than how old you feel or the stage of life course reached. <br />She uses the term ‘LIFE COURSE’ to refer to the ‘socially defined timetable of behaviours deemed appropriate for particular life stages within any one society’<br />Task <br />Individually – Write a definition for the concept of age <br />Small group work - Draw a timeline to represent the aging process. Identify the ‘socially defined behaviours appropriate for each stage’<br />Childhood <br />Childhood across different cultures <br />Childhood is often seen as a natural stage of life shaped by biological age. What is expected of children, and the social roles they take, is seen as a product of the chronological age (age in years) of children. If this were true then childhood would be very similar throughout the world and throughout history. But this is not the case. In the world today some children live very different lives to those in western society. For example: <br />Wyness (2006) notes that in Mexico, until recently, most children did paid work. <br />According to Amnesty International (2007) there are child soldiers in more than 30 countries. <br />In Samoa children are expected to perform dangerous and physically demanding tasks. <br />Amongst the Tikopia in the Western Pacific children are not expected to be obedient. <br />The historical development of childhood <br />The idea of childhood as we know it today is comparatively new. Many sociologists see childhood as a social construct - a role which is socially defined and specific to particular societies at particular times. <br />Philippe Aries (1973) believes that the whole idea of childhood is modern, and that childhood did not exist in medieval times. Children in this period were treated as little adults: <br />People didn't bother to note their chronological age. There were few specialist clothes, toys or games for children e.g. blind man’s buff and hoops<br />Children were not seen as innocent or kept away from the adult world. <br />Learning was for all ages. Adults were taught alongside children <br />They were expected to help out at work as soon as they were physically able<br />Children dressed like adults<br />There was no notion of childhood innocence – they slept in the same room as their parents, they smoked and they drank alcohol<br />They could join the army at 11 and be a lieutenant by 14<br />Many children died before growing up but families did not keep pictures and there was limited mourning of child deaths. <br /> Children's Games, by Pieter Breughal. <br />After the sixteenth century modern conceptions of childhood developed in which: <br />chronological age was seen as important; children who died were mourned and portraits of them sometimes kept; <br />specialist toys, games and clothes for children developed; <br />schooling kept children away from the adult world and children came to be seen as innocent; <br />families became much more child-centred, with children coming to be seen as more special. <br />Aries' gives the following reasons for this: <br />The modern conception of childhood as an age of innocence took shape in Victorian England when a series of laws removing children from work in factories and down mines and restricting their access to adult pleasures of sex, drink and gambling. <br />The introduction of education kept children separate from adults and extended the transition to adulthood. The foundation of the first schools for educating the sons of the new merchant class and accelerated in the 1700s as the middle classes expanded<br />The infant mortality rate fell. As most children survived and parents had fewer children, they were more committed to the children they had. <br />By the twentieth century specialist sciences like psychology and pediatrics emphasized the need for parents to care for and nurture children. <br />Shorter (1976) puts forward other reasons for modern ideas of childhood developing: <br />The idea of romantic love developed, which made children seem more important - as the product of a special relationship. <br />Philosophers such as Rousseau emphasized that children were born good and needed careful nurturing. <br />The idea of motherhood involving sacrifice for the benefit of children emerged. <br />Other factors are also suggested as having influenced modern ideas of childhood. <br />Postman (1982) argues that the invention of the printing press is important because it meant children had to spend many years learning to read before becoming adults. <br />Pilcher (1995) sees 19th-century factory legislation banning children from factories and mines as crucial. <br />Jenks (2005) puts more emphasis on changing attitudes, arguing the Apollonian image of the child as a special individual in need of careful treatment has changed the position of children. <br />Childhood in late modernity <br />Some sociologists believe that childhood is again in the process of change. <br />Postman (1994) puts forward a postmodern view of childhood. He argues that the distinction between childhood and adulthood is breaking down in postmodernity, leading to the disappearance of childhood. The development of the mass media exposes children to the adult world, including images of sex and violence. <br />Jenks (2005) disagrees that childhood is disappearing. There is concern about loss of innocence, antisocial behaviour by children and exposure to adult knowledge, but children are still very restricted and regulated; for example, they have to attend school, can't vote, drink alcohol, or have sex under 16. However, he does think adult-child relationships are changing in late modernity. Parents place even more emphasis on relationships with children than they do on relationships with partners. Parent-child relationships are the last primary relationships because rising divorce rates make marriages less permanent. <br />Jenks (2005) argues that all theories of childhood tend to generalize about changes in childhood and fail to take account of variations according to class, gender, ethnicity etc. <br />Prout (2005) agrees with Jenks but points out that Jenks himself tends to generalize. Prout emphasizes the massive differences in the experience of childhood between wealthier and poorer countries - for example, the lack of education and the requirement to work from a young age in some poorer countries. <br />Task <br /><ul><li>Use your internet research skills to find the dates of the following and draw a time line to illustrate the development of modern childhood:
  2. 2. The first factory acts prohibiting child labour
  3. 3. The first grammar schools
  4. 4. The first ragged schools
  5. 5. The introduction of compulsory education
  6. 6. The first toy manufacturers</li></ul>Functionalism - Talcott Parsons - age and the social system <br />An example of a functionalist perspective on age is provided by the work of Talcott Parsons (1954, first published 1942). As in other areas, Parsons related age differences to the overall functioning of the social system. He believed that differences in the social roles associated with age groups were vital for the smooth functioning of society. However, he did accept that in US society there can be tensions between age groups. <br />Parsons believed that in all societies childhood is a period when socialization into society's culture takes place. Children learn the norms and values associated with different social roles, which enables them to contribute to society as adults.<br />According to Parsons, in the USA there is less differentiation in the socialization of males and females than in other societies. For example, both girls and boys attend school and receive a similar education. However, girls get much more opportunity than boys to practice adult roles in childhood. Parsons assumed that women tended to concentrate upon mother/housewife roles while men concentrated upon paid work and being breadwinners. Girls can help their mothers around the home while boys are unlikely to be able to help their fathers at work. <br />Parsons argued that adolescence is a time when children begin to develop independence from their parents. In industrial societies such as the USA it is essential that the workforce is mobile so that it can move to where workers are needed by manufacturing industry. The nuclear family is functionally well adapted to this type of society since it is self-sufficient and does not rely upon extended kinship networks. For the smooth functioning of society, it is vital that children develop independence from their parents and shift their primary loyalty from their parents to their marriage partner. <br />Youth culture therefore involves a degree of rebellion against parental discipline, which can cause conflict between the generations. Adolescents put much emphasis on establishing their independence and on personal attractiveness. Although the transition towards adult roles may not always be a smooth one, it does help to create independent individuals within nuclear families who are well adapted to the needs of industrial societies. <br />Industrial societies do, however, bring problems for the elderly. Parsons noted that the elderly have less status in US society than in most other types of society. Once children have grown up and men have retired, the elderly lose their most important social roles. In addition, they may be relatively isolated from their children who tend to focus more on their marriage partners and their own children than they do on their parents. Parsons therefore said that 'By comparison with most other societies the United States assumes an extreme position in the isolation of old age from participation in the most important social structures and interests'.<br />Parsons did acknowledge, however, that the signifiicance of age differences varies within society. For example, farming families tend to have less separation of generaations than othei families in the USA. Both adolescents and the elderly can make some contribution to running a farm and this can reduce the structural isolation of the elderly.<br />Functionalists see old age as a time of disengagement from society. Cumming & Henry (1961) argue that the marginalization of the elderly is good for society because they become less able to do the work and they block opportunities for the young. Gradual disengagement allows both society and the individual to adapt to their ultimate disengagement. <br />Evaluation<br />Parsons's views have been widely criticized. Jenny Hockey and Allison James note that his theory has been attacked for 'its determinisrn, its overemphasis on conformity and consensus and neglect of inequalities' (2003). Although Parsons acknowledged that adolescents can rebel against their parents, according to his theory they seem to do so simply because tpe social structure needs them to. However, many studies of youth subcultures stress that youths actively and creatively produce subcultures rather than passively act out roles ascribed to them by society.<br />Apart from rebellious adolescents, Parsons assumes that different age groups conform to generally agreed roles. However, postmodern theories suggest that age differences are breaking down; feminist theorists criticize Parsons for assuming that women both are and should be socialized into 'feminine' roles as mothers and housewives; while conflict theories stress that Parsons ignores the conflict and exploitation involved in relationships between age groups. Conflict theories will now be examined. <br />Hunt (2005) argues that disengagement theory ignores the fact that some people may not be able or do not wish to disengage. Disengagement may be a waste of human resources. <br />Hockey &: James (1993) argue that the role of the elderly results from social construction rather than disengagement. <br />Vincent (1995) argues that the elderly are dependent and disadvantaged because of social structure not because of biological decline or disengagement. <br />TASK<br /><ul><li>As a class discuss how the above roles may be seen as functional for society</li></ul>OLD AGE<br />In pre-industrial societies the elderly often have a high status. As property is rarely bought and sold but held by the family and passed down from generation to generation the elderly retain much economic power. In a society in which there is little technological innovation, the elderly with their lifetime of experience are regarded as the repositories of wisdom. In some societies they are also held in high esteem because of their closeness to the afterlife; senility brings status as it is interpreted as a sign of the commune of the elderly with the spirit world. <br />Task <br />Pair Work - Divide the following into 2 lists; factors which might contribute to the elderly having a high status in society and factors which might contribute to them having a low status. Identify which are features of modern society. What conclusion can you draw from this about the status of the elderly in modern society? <br />High rate of social mobility<br />Low rate of social mobility<br />High rate of geographical mobility<br />Low rate of geographical mobility<br />The family is the unit of production<br />Work takes place in specialized institutions outside the family<br />Learning takes place in specialized institutions<br />Learning takes place in the family<br />Knowledge is passed on by word of mouth<br />Knowledge is passed on via the printed word/internet<br />High rate of social change<br />Low rate of social change<br />Short life expectancy<br />Long life expectancy<br />Conflict Perspectives<br />Marxism <br />Age groups are defined by the capitalist system by peoples relationship to employment i.e. Young people are not ready to work; Adults are people of working age; The elderly are too old to work.<br />Vincent (1995, 2006) argues that age is an important form of stratification in society. It creates barriers to and opportunities for status, power, wealth and income. The significance of age varies between societies and over time, and the experience of ageing depends on social class, gender and ethnicity In rural economies age was irrelevant but in capitalist societies age became associated with legal rights and restrictions - for example, compulsory education and work became the basis of status and income. Vincent describes three types of age classification: <br />Age strata or age classes are groups of people of the same age. They share the same life chances and social rights. Jackson & Scott (2006) argue that childhood in Britain is a form of subordination. <br />Generation refers to position in the family and can also be a source of conflict. <br />Cohort refers to groups of people born at the same time. They experience the same historical changes which can influence their outlook. <br />Vincent shows how old people, especially working-class women, are more likely to be poor than other age groups. The value of the old age pension has declined since 1979, and women who work part-time or in low-paid jobs may have restricted entitlements to pensions. At the same time women live longer than men so have more years of dependency. Vincent argues there is a growing divide between the elderly and the working population, and growing divisions amongst older people. Vincent believes that the problem of old age is socially constructed and the moral panic over Britain's ageing population is an ideological distraction. <br />Phillipson (1982) argues that capitalism views the elderly as a burden on society. Their working life has ended and their spending power decreases. Old age is stigmatized.<br />Feminism <br />Feminist perspectives link inequalities of age with those of gender. One approach links the oppression of children with the oppression of women; a second links the way ageing affects men and women differently: <br />Oakley (1994) argues that women and children are minority groups locked together in patriarchal oppression. They are regarded by society as physically or culturally different and have fewer citizenship rights. <br />Gannon (1999) argues that women are materially disadvantaged in old age because they tend to be paid less and to have caring responsibilities. <br />Arber (2006) notes that ageism and sexism combine to make the lives of older women very difficult. Women live longer than men so are more likely to have caring responsibilities but are less likely to be cared for by a partner. Women are also more likely to experience poverty. However, some older women find new intimate partners but live separately - 'living apart together'. <br />TASK<br /><ul><li>As a class discuss how the functional roles for society differs compared to these two conflict perspectives on age </li></ul>Interpretive<br />Interpretive approaches place particular emphasis upon the meanings attached to age. As Jane Pilcher says, 'Interpretivist perspectives are concerned ... with understanding the meaning social phenomena have for individuals and with the processes through which individuals interpret and understand the world'. <br />Interpretive perspectives place less emphasis than conflict and feminist perspectives on the way social structures (such as class and patriarchy) shape those meanings. Instead they tend to see the meanings as shaping the social world and affecting the behaviour of members of society. Thus interpretive sociologists are interested in the meanings attached to categories such as childhood, youth or old age, and the effects that those meanings have. They have therefore tended to support the idea that age categories are a social construct - they are the product of social definitions, not natural, biological categories. Social constructionism has influenced other sociological approaches examined in this chapter including that of Aries. <br />Prout and James (1990, discussed in Pilcher, 1995) see interpretivist sociology as influencing the sociology of age in two main ways: <br />It has led to the questioning of commonsense ideas about age. For example, it has questioned ideas about the inevitability of childhood as a period when children must be highly dependent on parents and of old age as a time when the quality of people's lives deteriorates. <br />It has encouraged an examination of the social world from the perspective of its participants, including disempowered groups such as children. Thus, for example, it has stimulated studies which take children seriously as social actors in their own right.<br />The ideas behind interpretive perspectives on age - that age categories are largely social constructs, that commonsense views of age can be questioned, and that age can be studied from the viewpoint of those in all age groups - have been very influential. <br />There is a good deal of overlap between interpretive and other perspectives in sociology. Many sociologists primarily influenced by other perspectives (including conflict theory, feminism and postmodernism) have accepted at least some aspects of interpretive approaches. For example, Gannon (1999; see above), while primarily seeing age from a feminist perspective, was influenced by interpretivism when studying the different meanings of old age for men and women. Similarly, predominantly interpretive approaches have been influenced by other perspectives in sociology, as the next study to be discussed will show. <br />Jenny Hockey and Allison James (1993) – ‘Growing up and growing old’<br />Their work draws upon interpretive perspectives in examining the 'meanings attached to growing up and growing old in contemporary society. Hockey and James argue that the meaning of old age is linked to the meaning of childhood. Through an examination of a range of secondary sources and the use of their own ethnographic studies of old people's homes, they argue that the elderly are often compared to 'children and treated as if they were children. <br />Although Hockey and James concentrate primarily on language and the interpretation of meanings in line with interpretive perspectives, they also incorporate elements of conflict perspectives into their study. They examine how the meanings attributed to childhood and old age lead to differences in power between different age groups and can cause conflict. <br />Childhood and adulthood<br />Hockey and James argue that in modern Western societies, - being accepted as an individual who is a full member of society - depends upon being accepted as an adult. Adults are autonomous individuals with rights but also responsibility for their own actions. Other groups are not given the status of personhood. For example, those with 'mental handicaps' and children are not seen as full persons who should be able to make their own choices and take responsibility for their actions. <br />Modern ideas of childhood believe that children should be separated and excluded from the public, adult world and largely live their lives in families, schools, ,nurseries and other specialist places for children. Children are seen as being close to nature and lacking the rationnality of adults. They are seen as innocent and easy to corrupt. They are therefore vulnerable and dependent on adults both for care and for protection from the corrupting world of adults. <br />Childhood is the 'other' of adulthood, its opposite which helps define adulthood as being about independence and autonomy. Because childhood is seen in this way children are kept in a state of dependency on adults.<br />Infantilized old age<br />Old age is often linked to childhood. In the media and everyday life the elderly and childhood are often linked together. Hockey and James point out that 'very old people may jokingly be described as entering their "second childhood", or as going "ga ga" when their memories fade'. The term 'ga ga' refers, of course, to the noise made by babies who cannot yet talk. They ate helpless, unable to express their own wishes and totally dependent on adults to care for them. <br />Stereotypes of elderly women see them as 'little old ladies' - harmless perhaps, but also powerless and passive like an infant. In the media, children and the elderly are often portrayed as having an affinity with one another because they are both dependent. In the film Cinema Paradiso, for example, an elderly man and a young boy find a common bond through the cinema; and the elderly and the young are often juxtaposed in adverts. <br />Everyday talk, stereotypes and the media all serve to make old age appear similar to childhood. In the process old age is infantilized. The elderly are made to seem childlike and as a result they lose the status of being adults who have full personhood. <br />The consequences of this were demonstrated in studies by Jenny Hockey of old people's homes. Hockey found that the clients of old people's homes were often treated like children. They were not allowed to keep their own money, which instead was looked after by the staff who would give them 'pocket money' if they needed it. The privacy of their body was often invaded, as staff members washed, bathed or dressed them. They were expected not to be sexually active and they were given few choices about daily routine such as when they ate or even when they went to the toilet. As Hockey and James say, 'residential homes for the elderly may effectively encourage social dependency by reducing people's opportunities for independence and self-determination'. <br />Dependence, independence and resistance <br />Hockey and James argue that both childhood and old age are social constructs. They are linked by the common theme of dependency yet both children and the elderly could be much more independent than society usually allows them to be. <br />For example, in the past children did much more work than they do today, and retirement policies deny many older people, who are perfectly capable of working, the opportunity to do so. Hockey and James note that similar characteristics of dependency are often attributed to the disabled who also can be restricted and excluded as a result. <br />However, Hockey and James do not believe that those who are marginalized, excluded and made dependent always accept their status lying down. In line with conflict theory, Hockey and James argue that they are capable of resisting their status. Resistance can take three forms. <br />They can use alternative sources of power to resist. For example, wealthy elderly people might wield high power because of their wealth, elderly men can still exert some patriarchal power over female carers and so on. <br />A second method of resistance is to deny membership of a subordinate group and to pretend to belong to one of a higher status. Teenagers often pretend to be 18 in order to buy alcoholic drinks. Elderly people may cling on to roles which make them feel or appear younger. Jenny Hockey's research in an old people's home described one resident, Sissy, taking on the role of visitor to cheer up and support more frail residents. <br />Being a member of a disadvantaged social group can in itself be a source of power. It provides opportunities to mock the way you are treated. Hockey recounts how residents of the old people's home would act in deliberately childish ways - sticking their tongue out, for example - in response to being infantilized by care workers. As well as symbolic resistance such as this, some residents were deliberately obstructive. Some refused to hurry to lunch, some demanded to go to the toilet at inconvenient times, others would turn a deaf ear to requests or instructions from care staff. Some residents made frequent and stark comments on their own impending demise, and thereby resisted the taboo in the home against discussing death. This discomfited many care staff but was a way in which some of the residents were able to assert a measure of independence until the end. <br />Hockey and James provide an interesting discussion of the way in which childhood and old age are linked through the process of infantilization. Their work provides a good illustration of how a sociological understanding of age and the life course can be developed through analysing the meaning given to age in particular societies. As such, it is just one example of an interpretive approach to age. Other examples are discussed later in the chapter.<br />Interpretive approaches in sociology are often accused by structural and conflict theorists of ignoring inequality and social structure, but Hockey and James show an awareness of issues related to power, social class, gender and ethnicity. Like a lot of sociological work on age, therefore, it has been influenced by more than one sociological perspective. <br />Summary<br />lnteractionists see old age as socially constructed rather than biological or natural. <br />Hockey & James (1993) argue that childhood and old age are linked: the elderly are often treated like children as dependent, passive and powerless. This is demonstrated in old people's homes where the elderly are not allowed access to their own money or choices about their food. Disabled people may be similarly marginalized. <br />Hockey & James suggest that both the elderly and children could be more independent. They quote examples of these groups resisting their status - teenagers pretending to be 18 and elderly men exerting patriarchal power over female carers. <br />Postmodernism <br />Attitudes to old age are changing <br />The life course and modernity <br />Jane Pilcher (1995) argues that it is possible to see the stages of the life course in contemporary Western societies as a product of in general and m particular. These stages (consisting of an extended childhood, a period of youth, adulthood, and old age, which starts with retirement) have been strongly shaped by the way the 'labour market has developed. Pilcher says, 'childhood and youth have emerged via a process of their progressive exclusion from the labour market and their increasing containment within the education system' .The exclusion of those beyond retirement age from the labour market has 'led old age to be constructed as a period of dependency and relative powerlessness'. <br />Prior to the industrial revolution, both children and the old were usually involved in work if they were able to contribute. Childhood was much shorter, the category of youth was of little importance and being elderly was not so clearly demarcated by chronological age. Pilcher concludes, therefore, that 'The form and characteristics of the modern British life course itself can, then, be argued to be the product of the interrelations of societal institutions as they have developed under conditions of modernity' <br />Postmodernity and the life course<br />Having outlined the main features of the life course under modernity, Pilcher goes on to note that it is increasingly argued that the modern form of the life course is breaking down. The different phases of the life course are becoming more disorderly. The boundaries between different stages are becoming increasingly blurred. <br />As people become more concerned about self-identity they may present themselves or act in ways which contradict the norms associated with different life-course stages. For example, children may dress more like adults and old or middle-aged people may dress in youthful styles @risking being called 'nmtton dressed as lamb'. Wide variations in the age of marriage and childbearing, increased longevity, early retirement, advances in medicine, the development of cosmetic surgery and IVF treatment have all undermined the relatively clear-cut stages of the life course associated with modernity. <br />Pilcher says: <br />‘Some theorists have argued that, in effect, the life course is becoming deinstitutionalized and destandardized, that age-based transitions and norms, forms and standards of behaviour, which previously were fairly strictly defined, regulated and orderly, are becoming less fixed, less constraining, less orderly’.<br />From this point of view, people have far more choice than in the past about how their age affects their life. <br />Pilcher herself is not convinced that dramatic changes have taken place. She admits that the effects of age in society are changing so that the life course is becoming less rigid. However, she also says that 'the balance of the evidence ... points to the continuing importance of age based social divisions'.<br />Some theorists, however, believe that the changes are more profound than Pilcher acknowledges and are more supportive of postmodern theories. <br />Mike Featherstone and Mike Hepworth argue that there are 'emergent cultural tendencies', particularly in the middle classes, towards postmodern forms of the life course. For some people, the experience of the life course has changed in line with postmodern theory. <br />Like Pilcher, Featherstone and Hepworth believe that industrialization in modern societies led to the increasing importance of chronological age and the 'institutionalization of the life course socially structured into orderly sequences’. In recent times, though, the life course has begun to be deconstructed, or broken down, for some groups, making it less predictable. The central features of this process are:<br />De-differentiation - a process in which the differences between stages in the life course become less clear<br />Deinstitutionalization - a process in which the institutions of society become less closely associated with maintaining different phases of the life course<br />There are many aspects of these changes: <br />Children and adults are becoming more alike - in terms of gestures, postures, leisure pursuits, ways of dressing and so on they are becoming more similar to one another. <br />Childhood is becoming less separate from other stages of the life course because the segregation of children from adult life is becoming impossible. The media intrude into the formerly private life of the family, bringing adult concerns into the lives of children. <br />Middle-class adults reaching retirement with good pensions can afford to continue to enjoy consumerrculture lifestyles, having a high disposable income to spend on leisure goods and services. <br />Some of this spending goes on 'body maintenance'. They can slow down mental, sexual and physical decline with the help of healthy diets, regular exercise, cosmetics, drugs, surgical intervention and so on. <br />The 'baby boomers' born after the Second World War' who grew up in the 1960s are taking with them into old age many of the values and cultural tastes of their youth. Unlike previous generations they try to maintain youthful lifestyles as they age. <br />Increasingly people reject chronological age - the number of years lived - as an indicator of their real selves. They regard chronological age as a mask which hides their more youthful essential, inner self. Featherstone and Hepworth quote research which suggests that many people believe that age should be Seen in terms of the age you feel or the age you look, rather than in terms of the number of years you have lived. Based on these criteria, people see themselves as having a personal age different from their chronological age, usually seeing themselves as younger than their birth certificate indicates. <br />Ageing has increasingly come to be seen in positive terms rather than as part of an inevitable decline towards infirmity and dependence. Middle age or mid-life is seen as lasting longer than was previously thought, so that only the very elderly are expected to be powerless and dependent. Even after retirement from paid work many middle-class people continue to make a valuable contribution to the community (for example, through voluntary work). They often retain considerable economic, cultural, social or symbolic capital (see pp. 67~9 for a discussion of different types of capital), making them far from powerless. <br />Conclusion<br />Featherstone and Hepworth conclude that the baby boomer generation has done much to break down the stereotypes of old age and increase the range of options and identities open to the middle class as they get older. They acknowledge, however, that these benefits have not been enjoyed to the same extent by lower classes who have fewer resources to take with them into old age. Nor can these changes overcome the loss of status and opportunity for those whose bodies seriously decline. For example, the incontinent or infirm elderly have difficulty maintaining a youthful self-identity; and their social and leisure opportunities are severely restricted. Featherstone and Hepworth are therefore guarded in accepting postmodern ideas, but they do believe that the societal trend is towards a more flexible life course, in line with the predictions of postmodern theory. <br />Consumer culture and age <br />Andrew Blaikie (1999) is a stronger advocate of postmodernism than either Pilcher or Featherstone and Hepworth. He concentrates on the image of retirement, arguing that attitudes to retirement have changed dramatically and stereotypes of old age have broken down. He attributes this partly to the development of consumer culture <br />With an ageing population, those over retirement age make up an increasingly numerous group. They have become an important market for companies wishing to sell goods and services. While marketing and the media still emphasize youthful vitality much of the time, they also stress the importance of trying to retain that youthfulness into later life. It is stressed that rejuvenation is possible with such products and services as liposuction, anti-wrinkle creams and face-lifts. <br />In modern societies, where production rather than consumption was dominant, the elderly were not valued because they were considered too old to work. Because knowledge changed rapidly, their experience was not valued. However, in postmodern consumer societies these handicaps no longer apply because the elderly can consume just like younger age groups. <br />Challenging stereotypes <br />The stereotypes of ageing have been challenged by media figures who appear to retain their youthfulness much longer than would be expected. Role models of successful ageing include Cliff Richard, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Raquel Welch, Joan Collins and Paul McCartney, all of whom are perceived as living full lives and looking glamorous. <br />Some magazines portray positive aspects of life after retirement. For example, the magazine Choice emphasizes in its title that the retired have many options open to them and can live full and rewarding lives. In the media there are more and more positive images of older people enjoying life and being active. <br />This idea has filtered through to the professions which deal with those in later life. Blaikie discusses research which suggests that professionals such as health workers and social workers see it as normal for older people to be self-reliant, sexually active and healthy, at least in the early years of retirement. <br />Four Stages of Life<br />Blaikie supports a view of the life course put forward by the social historian Peter Laslett (1989). Laslett argued that there are now four stages of life: <br />The first age of childhood is characterized by dependence, immaturity and socialization. <br />The second age of adulthood is characterized by maturity, independence and responsibility. <br />The third age follows retirement and is characterized by Laslett as a period of personal fulfillment. Freed from the responsibility of parenthood and employment, people are relatively free to choose their own pursuits and to fulfill ambitions. <br />The fourth age relates to physical decline and is characterized by 'dependence, decrepitude and death'. <br />The emphasis on choice and opportunity in later life in this analysis reflects the postmodern emphasis on the ability of individuals to choose their own identities. Its helpful to distinguish between the 3rd and 4th age. <br />The end of old age?<br />People are no longer so restricted by their age. Blaikie says, 'To talk of the "end of old age" is perhaps to overstate the issue' (1999, p. 210), but he goes on to say, 'the appropriate metaphor is no longer one of life as a clearly defined journey but of a bewildering maze' (pp. 210-11). In this maze, people have multiple selves; their identity is much more a matter of choice rather than being determined by age. <br />Blaikie speculates that in the future medical advances might increase longevity and good health amongst the elderly population further. This could break down stereotypes about old age even further and bring society closer to the 'end of old age'. <br />However, Blaikie does not completely accept the idea that old age has become a time of fulfillment and choice. He argues that there are still significant problems faced by the elderly. <br />The positive images of old age make those who cannot live active, fulfilled lives after retirement seem like deviants. They may receive more criticism for their failure than sympathy for their plight. <br />The emphasis on active and youthful retirement tends to deny the reality of ultimate physical decline and death. While many people are healthy and active after 65, some are not and their options are much more restricted than positive images of old age would suggest. <br />Class, gender and ethnic divisions continue to shape the experience of old age. White nlen from higher social classes tend to enjoy more prosperous and fulfilling retirements than other groups. <br />Realistically, then, 'Most older people stand to be neither particularly affluent, nor desperately infirm: they are relatively poor but also fit and active, with partial, remedial disabilities and dependencies as they grow older' (Blaikie, 1999, pp. 214-15). <br />Conclusion <br />Postmodern views on age and the life course run the risk of exaggerating the degree to which society has been freed from the influence of age on social life. However, all the approaches examined here accept that the changes they discuss are limited and recognize that biology continues to prevent age differences from disappearing. They identify some important social trends and advance a strong argument that the life course has become less rigid than in the past. <br />Perhaps the arguments are more convincing when applied to older age groups. It is less apparent that the significance of life-course stages has declined for children. <br />Summary<br />Postmodernists suggest that differences in the stages of the life course are breaking down. <br />Pilcher (1995) argues that in the modern world the life course is strongly influenced by the labour market. Exclusion from the workforce has extended powerlessness and dependency in old age whilst the extension of education has prolonged childhood and youth. As modernity breaks down, the borders between the different stages become blurred - children dress as adults whilst the middle-aged dress as young people. However, Pilcher believes that age-based divisions continue to be important. <br />Featherstone & Hepworth (1991) argue that childhood has become less separate from adulthood and the elderly regard old age as a chronological mask which hides their personal age - the age they feel themselves to be. Even after retirement middle-class people continue to contribute to their community, for example through voluntary work, and may often retain considerable economic, cultural and social capital. Magazines aimed at old people portray an image of ‘youthful’ old age i.e. enjoying holiday and sports, wearing fashionable clothes. People can mask their age more than ever before e.g. cosmetic surgery <br />Blaikie (1999) argues that stereotypes of ageing have broken down and those over retirement age are an important market for consumer goods. He notes positive ageing role models, such as Cliff Richard and Joan Collins, and argues people are no longer restricted by age. However class, gender and ethnicity continue to shape the experience of old age. <br />From The Times<br />June 6, 2007<br />Rock on – why I’ve become a Zimmers groupie<br />Richard Morrison <br />It’s the most surprising and delightful arts story of the year. The Zimmers, a pop group with a 90-year-old lead singer, an 83-year-old guitarist and a backing chorus of 40 pensioners (including two aged 99 and 100), has soared up the charts with a version of (what else?) My Generation – The Who’s classic song, with its suddenly very ironic line: “Hope I die before I get old”. The band’s combined age is 3,000 years – almost as much as the Rolling Stones. Their video on YouTube has been seen two million times. Last night they appeared on Jay Leno’s Tonight, the primetime US chat-show. And all this has been achieved in the teeth of appalling ageism from the main British pop radio stations, Radio 1 and Capital 95.8, both of which refused to play the single. <br />My press colleagues have not exactly been paragons of open-mindedness, either. “The band that puts the hip into hip replacement,” chortled one. “Will their next song be When I’m 164?” quipped another. <br />Of course, for somebody in my middling years, the rise of the Zimmers is deeply reassuring. Since the pop-music world can now be said to boast aficionados who are a century old, I can claim that I am at the younger end of the spectrum. Well, almost. But it’s not for that reason that I applaud their success. It’s because of what they stand for. <br />They were brought together, from lonely council flats and run-down old people’s homes, by the BBC reporter Tim Samuels for a programme on the plight of the elderly. His thesis, and it can’t be denied, is that old people are the forgotten and insulted underclass of our age. Most of us accept that as we grow old our physical and mental powers will wane. But what perhaps we don’t realise (despite vociferous campaigns by pensioners’ lobby-groups such as IsItFair, the “blue-rinse panthers”) is how shoddily we will be treated by society – how much we will be shunted out of sight and mind. <br />I had a taste of that a few years ago when a stupid cycling accident landed me in hospital for ten days while the innards of my leg were pinned together with the titanium equivalent of flying buttresses. In my NHS ward were several very old men. At night they moaned. Nobody took any notice. The ward seemed like a prison. In the far distance through the windows one could see the world carrying on blithely and successfully without us – indeed, oblivious to our continued existence. It was impossible not to feel involuntarily cast adrift. And with that realisation came a gnawing loneliness. <br />I felt all these things, yet I knew that I would be out within a fortnight. The old men, I suspected, would never get out – or, if they did, they would just exchange one solitary confinement for another. <br />Of course I realise that only a minority of “third-agers” endure existences as bad as that. Blessed with reasonable health and at least a semblance of a pension, many people manage to lead happy, busy lives into their nineties. But there are hundreds of thousands for whom old age is not the serene crowning of their mortal span, but a scarcely endurable curse. And as medicine keeps more and more of us alive for longer and longer (the world, I’m told, will soon have a billion pensioners), so the problem of how to make old people feel wanted, useful and fully integrated into society will grow. <br />One objection to old people’s homes, as the ongoing police investigation in Somerset reminds us, is the alarming variation in the quality of the carers they employ. I hear stories of terrifying callousness, of dignity-stripping neglect bordering on sadism, as well as of selfless saintliness. But another objection (which also applies to those leisure organisations targeted at the elderly) is that they can easily increase, rather than diminish, the sense of isolation – the feeling of being cocooned in a geriatric ghetto. <br />Mind you, I don’t think the elderly always help themselves. My heart sinks whenever I hear someone say that they are retiring “to the country”. Enticed by pretty scenery, they are uprooting themselves not just from the physical and social landscape they have known all their lives, but from friends and family – the very people who could ease them through their declining years. So the strain on social services grows and grows. <br />Somehow we have to figure out ways of bringing together young, middle-aged and elderly to the mutual enrichment of all. When I’m not feeding the hungry presses, I feed my soul by participating in a choir where the age-range spans 80 years. I won’t pretend that the musical results are as pristine as if the group were confined to an elite platoon of brilliant twentysomethings who all sang like nightingales and could count to four. But the sense of team-spirit across the generations is often exhilarating. The trouble is that in the “real world” outside I rarely find anything like that. <br />Now, though, we have the example of the Zimmers, aurally blitzing our condescending preconceptions about what old people can and cannot do. Have a listen to their performance, if you can. It’s a lot livelier than some of what will be on parade at Glastonbury this month. What were Yeats’s wise words? “An aged man is but a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick – unless soul clap its hands and sing.” In 30 years of writing about the arts I can’t recall a more joyous instance of that happening. <br />Girls, pearls and a spot of art history<br />For the purest research reasons I have been scrutinising “girls in pearls”: the delightful daughters of the landed gentry (or those aspiring to this condition) who are featured as frontispieces in the magazine Country Life, presumably to attract rich, marriageable aristocrats. It’s strange how many seem to be “reading history of art”, usually at St Andrews University or (for the less “bookish” lass) an institution called “Oxford Brookes”. But these herculean labours of scholarship seem to leave time for the following: designing their own range of accessories; modelling in charity fashion shows; riding ponies; and of course eradicating poverty in Africa. <br />I have a personal interest in this, since my own daughter is “reading history of art”, though admittedly at egalitarian Manchester University rather than royally-appointed St Andrews. Does this mean that she is about to marry a viscount? And if so, how much cocaine should I get in for the reception? <br />Get stuffed day?<br />On the radio yesterday I heard a bossy government minister – name escaped me, but they are all the same anyway – telling us that we are going to have one of our bank holidays designated as “National British Day”. It will be marked by celebrations which, he said, “should be organised by local communities”. <br />Should? Should? In Tony Hancock’s immortal words: “What about Magna Carta? Did she die in vain?” One of the quintessential things about being British is, or used to be, that we don’t take orders about how to run our lives. The most British thing that a local community could do on “National British Day” would be to tell the Government to get stuffed. <br /> Family An individual’s position within the family can influence how they see others & how others see them Giddens (1986) argues that longer life expectancy effects family life. People are more likely to know grandparents and great-grandparents. Families continue much longer after children leave homeIdentification of stereotypes labeled onto different generations/age groups e.g. stereotype of old people as a social problem. There is the perception that they require more care than necessary Peer Group (Particularly important)Peer group pressure is a key factor influencing the culture (norms & values) young people People of similar ages who have lived through the same cultural and political events are referred to as the same generation. Feeling part of a generation can be part of an individual’s identity e.g. 60’s, 70’s etc… - Cultural comfort zone? Shain (2003) – groups of Asian girls developed distinct identities in a secondary school i.e. Girl Gangs, the Rebels, the Survivors & the Faith Girls (i.e. coping strategies that are crucial for who they identify with) EducationThe identification of age boundaries i.e. The date of your birth determines your year group & position within thatThe hidden curriculum contributes i.e. using phrases such as ‘old man’ or ‘young woman’ reinforces the identification of age as a social categoryMedia The media represent different age categories in different ways. Middle age is represented as a time of crisis. Old age is a time of dependency & loneliness. They influence popular culture and social attitudes immensely, (and reflect them)Muncie (2004) - Youths are troublesome & deviant. Moral Panics/Deviance Amplification Simon Biggs (1993) - Ageist attitudes in media products exist. Old people are presented in stereotypically roles on television entertainment programmes (i.e. mostly sitcoms) e.g. ‘forceful’, ‘vague’ or ‘difficult’ Lambert (1984) - Older men (not women) are often portrayed in positions of power e.g. newsreaders Teenage characters in soaps are a ‘bit wild’ e.g. drink, drugs, petty crime and unplanned pregnancyChildren are often represented as innocentThornton (1996) – the media are largely responsible for the creation of youth culture & range of youth identities in the contemporary UK. ReligionPeople under 15 (usually Sunday school and religious playgroups) and over 65 are more likely to be involved in religious activity The elderly are more spiritual than younger generations as religion in the contemporary UK is declining Young adults may be less religious than older people because of the way that society is changing i.e. increased rationalization has led to a more secular society where we need religion less to explain thingsOver 65’s are the most religious in terms of belief But may not necessarily practice their religion by going to church because of mobility difficultiesSome studies claim that the elderly are increasingly losing faith in GodMckingsley (2001) Religion is used as a coping strategy from his sample of 85 year oldsSects and cults are more likely to be popular with young adults Sects often appeal to young adults by messages of friendship and companionship. Attractive to those experiencing anomie (i.e. a lack of social morals and standards)… detachment from the world… (e.g. family, friends, income)… and have few responsibilities (e.g. marriage, children, employment etc…) Cults appeal to inner thoughts and feelings of young people. Attractive to people alienated from the primary cultures of society… and to those people already engaged in counterculture activityMiddle aged groups are more likely to become involved in world affirming movements Wallis – World-affirming movements may have no rituals and no official ideology. They may lack most of the characteristics of religious movements. They affirm the world and merely claim that they have the means to enable people to unlock their ‘hidden potential’. As examples of world-affirming movements Wallis mentions ‘Erhard Seminars Training’ and ‘Transcendental Meditation’Workplace Retirement is identified with old age Leaving the workplace prepares people for their potential change in statusWalker & Foster (2006) argue that social class impacts on pensions, health and life expectancyThe workplace is the most likely site for age discrimination in the contemporary UK Giddens (2006) argues that members of ethnic minority groups have lower incomes in old age.HealthOlder people are more likely to develop and suffer from long-term illnesses Nazroo (2006) argues that ethnic minorities have poorer health in old age and this is linked to income inequality. However, they have more family contacts, stronger social networks and more opportunities to take part in the community than white people. Young people are more likely to be healthy, but also to be involved in accidents and other violent incidentsThe StateThe law affects how different age groups are treated e.g. 65 is the age of retirement, over 70’s cannot do jury serviceGinn and Arber (1993)The ageing population has led to an increase in ageism i.e. young people’s concern over the cost to the taxpayer e.g. negative news articles suggesting that the NHS & welfare system will be put under ‘strain’<br />

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