Aging Essay, Research Paper
Throughout the semester we have tried to understand individual choice and individual experiences in the context of social forces and constraints, and the patterning of experience by location in the social structure. Present your understanding of this very sociological perspective. Use examples and readings to support your position. Illustrate your points by referring to a specific phenomenon.
Many times when asked about aging, people will respond with the statement, “Aging is what you make of it.” This statement places the responsibility to cope in society on the individual. Through careful analysis of the sociological perspective, this can be understood to be another blame the victim situation. Social forces are incredibly strong. They influence every one of our lives on a daily basis. Some may argue they create who we are today and who we will become tomorrow. Most importantly they place restraints on the possibilities for the individual, especially the aging individual. The statement, “Aging is what you make of it” is false because society constructs the aging experience.
Everything is socially constructed through a process of society. From the time we are born be are socialized to know how society works. In America we have been socialized to go to the bathroom in a certain orderly manner, with social rules such as washing your hands afterwards, being very important. In other cultures this same procedure may be completely different because they are socialized to follow a different procedure. One procedure may not be better than the other may, but because society has decided to follow the procedure it is part of the socialization process when we are children. Just as we are socialized to go to the bathroom, we are socialized to believe certain things about aging. “If different cultures at different times, value older people in different ways, it indicates that our stereotypes are socially rather than biologically.” (Scrutton)
A stereotype is a categorization based on one characteristic, with an evaluative component to that categorization that usually sets the notion of ‘other.’ There are many stereotypes about aging, including old people are all poor, frail, and require assistance. These ageist stereotypes are socially constructed for a number of reasons the major one being to maintain the status quo. There are many consequences of ageist stereotypes including outright disdain and dislike, subtle avoidance of contact, discrimination in employment and housing, and the creation of a fear of growing older. Even the youngest children demonstrate ageist beliefs about older people. These children’s parents do not deliberately sit down and teach them these stereotypes. They learn them from all of society just as their parents learned them. This social construction of aging goes deep into society. It is in public policy, media, and just about every other major social institution. These factors can have tremendous influence on older adults and the aging experience.
Since very part of society reinforces beliefs about what the aging experience is and should be, older adults do not have many individual choices to make the most out of aging. Society creates dependency of the older people through social institutions and programs. “This “burden of dependency” has been manufactured by public policies designed to reconstitute the labor force and redistribute the burden of unemployment largely through the growth in retirement.” (Hardy) An example of this is retirement. Once a person reaches a certain age at a company, society expects them to retire. Society all along has created the illusion of retirement as a wonderful time in a person’s life when they have worked hard all their life and can now stop and relax. This illusion can be devastating because not only would everyone think you were ridiculous for not wanted to retire, but they would think you were being greedy not allowing jobs to open up for younger workers. This social pressure usually forces people to retire and therefore lose their earning potential. In our society income is greatly valued. Those not making income are seen as dependent. Retirement really helps the people in power. By having people of a certain age retire companies can cut costs, and at the same time have a pool of non-employed people to be used as a weapon to control the employed people. “The attitudes which dominate any society usually reflect the interests of the mot powerful and influential social groups.” (Scrutton) Therefore when a person turns a certain age they are socially pressured into being dependent for their very survival. This is just one example of a social institution that makes it impossible to make the most out of aging. Older people do not have the power to choose to make the most out of aging. Their aging experience is shaped by society through structural dependency, ageism, and all aspects of society.
The statement “aging is what you make of it” is an example of a blame the victim attitude about aging. In the ‘blame the victim’ attitude people blame the victim for their situation, they see it then in the power of the individual to find the solution to the problem. The better attitude would be a ‘blame the system approach” to problems. This approach says that society is the source of the problem and the solution. People must be conscious of their social imagination, so that they are able to analyze their place in society. As shown, aging is not what you make of it. An individuals aging experience is constructed by society. In order to make the most out of aging, society will have to fix problems such as ageism, structured dependency, and many others.