In this module you learned the impact that the “graying of America” is having on the United States and globally, which is presenting numerous challenges for the elderly population and social institutions such as health care and government. You also learned about the process and challenges of aging and cultural attitudes that shape the way society views and limits the elderly.
The module explained the three theoretical perspectives on aging. Functionalist perspectives focuses on the role of elders in terms of how the elderly disengage from society and assert this is a natural process for the elderly. Conflict theories concentrate on how elders, as a group, are at odds with other groups in society in terms of power and status. Conflict theories also focus on how race, class and gender continue to serve as a basis of inequality even in old age. And theories in the symbolic interactionist perspective focus on how elders’ identities are created through their interactions and the changes associated with old age have no inherent meaning.
The media plays a large role in societal attitudes towards the elderly—we know that in the U.S., society typically looks at the physical processes of aging such as graying hair and wrinkled skin as evidence of being less-than. Ageist attitudes and biases based on stereotypes reduce elderly people to inferior or limited positions and can reduce their quality life as they internalize these false stereotypes.
In the following video, Ashton Applewhite, the author of “This Chair rocks: a manifesto of ageism,” asks society to reframe how society labels and values the elderly.