Sociological Theories of Aging

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					Sociological Theories of
       Aging (1)
This chapter presents some answers—theoretical
    statements that have been placed in two broad
(1) theories that attempt to conceptualize the
    adjustment of individuals to their own aging and
(2) theories that deal with the relationship between a
    society’s social system and its older members.
Theorizing in social gerontology (p. 208)

   Theorizing in social gerontology has a long way to go. In
    part, this is the case because theory has become
    ‘ devalued’ in gerontology.
   Also, student and professionals are attracted to
    gerontology precisely because it provides an opportunity
    to help people in need, not because it provides an
    opportunity to develop social theory.
   In addition, as Bengtson, Rice, and Johnson [ 1999 ] point
    out, the postmodernist critique of science as truth as well
    as the resistance to interdisciplinary investigation in
    gerontology have also contributed to the devaluing of
    theory development in gerontology.
Four pragmatic justifications for the
usefulness of theory in gerontology (p.209)

According to Bengtson, Rice, and Johnson (1999)
(1) Integration of knowledge—A good theory
    summarizes findings from different empirical
    studies and describes linkages among key
    constructs (構念).

(2) Explanation of knowledge—A useful theory
    describes in a logically sound way how and why
    empirically observed phenomena are related.
Four pragmatic justifications for the
usefulness of theory in gerontology (p.209)

(3) Predictions about what is not yet known or
  observed—Research based on theory can lead to
  new discoveries based on principles proposed in
  earlier theories.

(4) Interventions to improve human conditions—
  Theory is valuable when applied to existing
  knowledge in order to solve problems or alleviate
  human suffering. Theory can inform public policy.
Development of Theories on Aging
Aging and the individuals
 Role Theory, Activity theory, Disengagement theory,
 continuity theory, socioenvironmental theory,
 Exchange theory, Symbolic Interactionism
Aging and Society
  Subculture of the Aging, Modernization Theory, Age
  Stratification, Political Economy of Aging,
Emergent Theories
 Critical Gerontology, Feminist Gerontology
ROLE THEORY (p. 209)
The earliest attempt in social gerontology to
  understand the adjustment of the aged individual
  was placed within a role—theory framework
  (Cottrell 1942).

Generally speaking, research done within this
 framework was practically oriented.
Researchers were concerned with the problems of
 adjustment due to role changes in later life.
Two changes categories in aging
(1) The relinquishment of social relationships
   and roles typical of adulthood and

(2) Their replacement by retirement and the
    acceptance of social relationships typical of the
    later years, such as dependency on offspring
    [ Cavan et al 1949 ]
The special dilemma of role
change (p. 209)
The special dilemma of role change for older people
  is that they are more likely to lose roles than to
  acquire new ones.

Further, these losses, such as the loss of the worker
  role with retirement, are largely irreversible and
  may lead to erosion of social identity and decline
  in self—esteem. (Rosow 1985) .
Phillips study under the role theory
framework (p. 210)
   In his study of almost 1000 individuals age 60 and over, he
    found significantly more maladjustment to old age in the
    retired when compared with the employed. Maladjustment
    is measured by self.
   Another important variable used by Phillips is labeled
    identification as old. This item, a measure of self—image,
    simply asks, ‘How do you think of yourself as far as age
    goes—middle—aged, elderly, old ?
   Individuals, who perceive themselves as elderly of old are
    significantly more maladjusted than are those who perceive
    themselves as middle—aged.
Sex-role differentiation and life
satisfaction (p.210)
   Sinnott [1977], after reviewing many studies on middle and
    old age, came to the conclusion that survival and
    satisfaction in old age often accompany flexibility in sex

   Reichard, Livson, and Petersonv [1962] studied how 87
    men between the ages of 55 and 84 adjusted to aging. The
    best adjusted exhibited personalities not dominated by male
    traits. The researchers concluded that growing old may
    make it possible for a man to integrate formerly
    unacceptable feminine traits [ e. g. nurturance or passivity ]
    into his personality. Their data show that those best able to
    make the integration are rewarded by a more successful old
Sex-role differentiation and life
satisfaction (p. 210)
   Neugarten, Crotty, and Tobin [1964] found older men and
    women who were the most satisfied with life to be those
    who had best achieved an integration of straits culturally
    defined as masculine with traits culturally defined as
   While studying the structure of self—concept, Monge
    [1975] found certain continuity as well as discontinuities
    across the life cycle. Monge’s results suggest that as men
    and women become older, they become more
    androgynous(雌雄同體)—that is, more alike and perhaps
    more accepting of traits of the opposite sex in themselves.
   often called the implicit theory of aging(內含的老
   states that aging brings individual ‘ unadjustment’.
   Through activity, however, readjustment and life
    satisfaction can be achieved.
   The theory holds that, although aging individuals
    face inevitable changes related to physiology,
    anatomy, and health status, their psychological
    and social needs remain essentially the same.
   The social world may withdraw from older people,
    making it more difficult for them to fulfill these
   The person who ages optimally is the one who
    stays active and manages to resist the withdrawal
    of the social world.
   The individual who is able to maintain the
    activities of the middle years for as long as
    possible will be well adjusted and satisfied with
    life in the later years.
Social activities and life satisfaction (p.212)
Lemon, Bengtson, and Peterson [1972] attempted a formal
 and explicit test of the activity theory. Using a sample of
 411 potential in—movers to a southern California
 retirement community.

They distinguishing among informal activity (with friends,
  relatives, and neighbors), formal activity (participation in
  voluntary organizations), and solitary(獨自的) activity
  (maintenance of household). They found that only social
  activity with friends was significantly related to life
Social activities and life satisfaction   (p.212)

   Knapp’s (1977) study of 51 elderly people
    residing in the south of England lends support to
    these findings.
   Within this sample, there was a strong positive
    relationship between’ the number of hours spent
    in a typical week with friends and relatives
    [ informal activity ]’ and life satisfaction.
   Several measures of formal activity were also
    found to be strongly related to life satisfaction.
Theoretical problems in the
activity approach (p.213)
First problem
 the activity perspective assumes that individuals
   have a great deal of control over their social
It assumes that people have the capacity to
   construct—or, more appropriately, reconstruct—
   their lives by substituting new roles and activities
   for lost ones.
Clearly, this may be the case for the upper—
  middle—class individual whose locus of control
  has always been internal and whose social and
  economic resources allow for such reconstruction.
In this regard, the theory may be more about the
  relationships among socioeconomic status, life—
  style, health, and psychological well—being than
  about the relationship between activity and life
 Theoretical problems in the
 activity approach (p. 213)
Second problem
  the activity perspective emphasizes the stability of
  psychological and social needs through the adult phases of
  the life cycle. But what about the person whose environment
  changes at a particular age—for example, when he or she
  retires, is deprived of status, or is widowed? Might this
  individual’s social and psychological needs change in the
  face of the substantial change in environment?
Third problem
  an important problem in activity theory is the expectation
  that activities of any kind can substitute for lost involvement
  in work, marriage, and parenting.
Put forth by Cumming and Henry (1961), stands in
  contrast to role theory and activity theory.
Disengagement theory represents a transformation
  or new way of thinking about aging that shifted
  the focus away from the individual to the social
  system as the source of explanation (Lynott AND
  Lynott 1996).
Cumming and Henry asked, ‘ How does this affect
 the needs of social system functioning?’
Main postulates of disengagement theory (p. 214)
(1) the aging individual accepts—perhaps even desires—the
    decrease inn interaction.
(2) Proponents of this theory argue that gradual
    disengagement is functional for society, which would
    otherwise be faced with disruption by sudden withdrawal
    of its members.
(3) The disengagement theory postulates that society
    withdraws from the aging person to the same extent as the
    person withdraws from society. This is , of course just
    another way of saying that the process is normatively
    governed and in a sense agreed upon by all concerned.
Main postulates of disengagement theory
(p. 215)

(4) Cumming and Henry (1961) argue that the
  process of disengagement was both inevitable and
  All social systems, if they were to maintain
  successful equilibrium, would necessarily
  disengage from the elderly.
  Disengagement was seen as a prerequisite to
  social stability. Older people could be released
  from societal expectation that they work and be
Important disengagement (p. 214)
   Important disengagement included the departure
    of children from families as well as retirement for
    men or widowhood for women. It was not
    concerned with nonmodal cases.

   Early widowhood or late retirement—nor was it
    concerned with the special effects of poverty or
Relationship between personality
and disengagement (p. 214)
   Elaine Cumming, one of the originators of
    disengagement theory, published a paper in which
    she discussed the relationship between personality
    [ or what she called temperament ] and
   She wrote that all people have a style of
    adaptation to the environment and went on to
    identify two different modes of interacting with
    the environment: the impinging mode and the
    selecting mode.
The impinging activist and the
selector (p. 214)
   The impinging activist, willing to try out his or her
    style of adaptation on others,
   The impinger’s judgment may not be as good as it
    was, but he or she is likely to be viewed as an
    unusual person for his or her age.
   Ultimately, as he becomes less able to control the
    situations be provokes, he may suffer anxiety and
    panic through failure both to arouse and to interpret
    appropriate reactions.
   His problem in old age will be avoid confusion.
The selector (p. 215)
   The selector can be expected to be more measured
    in his or her ways.
   As a youth, this individual may have appeared to
    others as withdrawn.
   With age, this style seems more appropriate ‘in
    old—age, because of his reluctance to generate
    interaction, he may, like a neglected infant,
    develop a kind of marasmus.
   His foe will be apathy rather than confusion’
    (Cumming 1963)
Critics on disengagement theory
(p. 215)
(1) Through the 1960s and 1970s, most research efforts
    were unable to offer empirical support for the
    theory.Youmans (1967) found that a sample of the
    rural elderly did not, in general, experience
(2) Tallmer and Kumer (1970) found that physical and
    social stress, rather than aging perse, often produces
    disengagement. This suggests that the extent to
    which a person disengages may be a function of
    that individual’s occupation or position in the
 Hochschild’s critics (problems) on
 disengagement theory (p. 215)
(1) First, Hochschild argues that the disengagement theory
   allows no possibility for counterevidence.
(2) Second, the major variables in the theory—age and
   disengagement—turn out to be ‘ umbrella’ variables, which
   are divisible into numerous other promising variables (social
   and psychological disengagement). Carp [1969]
   distinguishes among types of social disengagement,
(3) Third, the disengagement theory essentially ignores the
   aging person’s own view of aging and disengagement.
   Behavior that looks like disengagement to the observer may
   have a completely different meaning for the aging person.
Four Other theories (p. 216)
Into the 1980s, the activity and disengagement
  perspectives dominated the theoretical discussion
  in social gerontology, but several alternative
  perspectives have since been put forth. Four
  somewhat related theories that deserve mention
  are the
   continuity theory
   socioenvironmental theory
   exchange theory
   symbolic interactionism.
   Continuity theory hold that middle—aged and
    older adults make adaptive choices in an effort to
    preserve ties with their own past experiences

   Continuity is a subjective phenomenon and can be
    internal, external, or both.
Internal continuity (p. 216)
   Internal continuity requires memory and is tied to
    ‘ a remembered inner structure, such as the
    persistence of a psychic structure of ideas,
    temperament, affect, experiences, preferences,
    dispositions, and skill’.

    Pressures and attractions that move people
    toward internal continuity include the importance
    of cognitive continuity for maintaining mastery
    and competence, a sense of ego integrity, and
External continuity (p. 217)
   External continuity involves memory of the
    physical and social environments of one’s past,
    including role relationships and activities. Older
    people may be motivated toward external
    continuity by the expectations of others, the desire
    for predictable social support, or the need to cope
    with physical and mental health changes as well as
    changes in social roles involving the empty nest,
    widowhood, or retirement.
   According to Atchley, individuals classify the
    degree of continuity in their lives into three general
    categories : too little, optimum, and too much.

   Socioenvironmental theory directs itself at
    understanding the effects of the immediate social
    and physical environment on the activity patterns of
    aged individuals.
   The chief proponent of this theory is Jaber
    Gubrium [1973, 1975].
   Gubrium concerns himself with the meaning old
    people place on life and with the effect different
    physical and social contexts may have on that
SOCIOENVIRONMENTAL THEORY                     (p. 218)

   This approach is based on the understanding that
    people respond to the social meaning of events
    rather than to some absolute aspect of these
   The responses of persons might easily be different
    if the social meaning placed on the event by one
    varies from the meaning placed on that event by
    the other.
two factors affecting the meaning old
people placed on events (p. 218)
   According to Gubrium (1973), two factors that affect the
    meaning old people placed on events—and thus their
    interaction patterns—are the physical proximity(接近
    性)of other persons and the age homogeneity (年齡同質
    性)of an environment.
   Rosow’s (1967) seminal work on elderly people in
    Cleveland shows that old people residing in apartment
    buildings with a high concentration of aged people were
    more likely to develop friendships with neighbors than
    was the case for old people residing in buildings with a
    low concentration of elderly.
 Gubrium’s typology of social context (p.
On the basic of the possible contributions of the two
 variables, physical proximity and age homogeneity,
 Gubrium developed a typology of social contexts.

Type 1. Age homogeneous, close physical proximity.
Type 2. Age heterogeneous, close physical proximity.
Type 3. Age homogeneous, distant physical proximity.
Type 4. Age heterogenous, distant physical proximity
Studies      (p. 218)
   A number of studies show the relationship
    between age homogeneity and friendship patterns.
    Messer [ 1967] found that elderly people in age—
    homogeneous public housing projects in Chicago
    interacted more frequently than did elderly
    persons living in age—heterogeneous settings.
   Socioenvironmental theory posits that Type 1.
    social contexts have the highest degree of age
    concentration and are thus quite conductive to
    social interaction. Residential apartment buildings
    for the elderly are the Type 1 variety.
Main arguments of Gubrium on aging          (p.

(1) Of utmost importance to the socioenvironmental
  theory is the recognition that different social
  contexts generate different sets of activity norms
  for aged.

(2)To the extent such norms place behavioral
  demands on individuals, it becomes clear that
  different social contexts place different demands on
  the elderly.
Main arguments of Gubrium on aging          (p.

(3)Gubrium suggests that individuals who have the
  resources (health, financial solvency, and social
  support)] to meet the demands of the environment
  will show high morale and self—satisfaction.

(4)Incongruence between environmental
  expectations and activity resources leads to low
  morale and diminished life satisfaction.