Social Theories of Aging
The fundamental biological problem that all theories of aging seek to explain was stated very elegantly in 1957 by Williams when he wrote, "It is indeed remarkable that after a seemingly miraculous feat of morphogenesis, a complex metazoan should be unable to perform the much simpler task of merely maintaining what is already formed." The difficulty in attempting to establish an understanding of aging is that it is not a single physiological process. It is multifaceted and hierarchical in its expression with subtle changes occurring simultaneously at the molecular, cellular, tissue and organ levels. The variety of characterizes many species, particularly humans, and the complexity of environmental interactions results in an enormous phenotypic variability being associated with aging. This variability is frequently confounded by the symptoms of underlying pathology and invariably increases between individuals with aging. First Transformation of Theory
The beginning of social gerontology began as general perspectives on aging rather than as actual scientific theories. Prior to 1961, social gerontology attempted to explain how individuals adjusted to aging from role and activity perspectives. Growing old was seen as an inevitable process that led to the development of problems an individual experienced overtime. It wasn’t until 1961, with the development of disengagement theory, that there was an actual theory being used as a basis for scientific research. A basic assumption of the theory was that all societies have to transfer power from an aging population to a younger one. Disengagement attempted to explain this process of power transfer and complimented gerotrancendence, another theory from what is considered to be the first transformation of theory. Gerotrancendence follows the beliefs of Jung and Erikson that as a person ages, they withdraw from the external world to an internal world focused on spirituality, wisdom, self-acceptance and purpose. Both disengagement and gerotrancendence theories attempted to explain what social gerontologists thought aging should be. They did not try to develop a universal theory to explain the variety of experiences of people as they age (Hooyman & Kiyak, 2011). In the case of disengagement, this withdrawal from power was believed to be a universal experience that transcended gender and culture. Death was inevitable; decline in abilities was probably. It was only natural that others would have lowered expectations for aging individuals. In the case of gerotrancendence, this withdrawal resulted from an individual not achieving ego identity. An individual would either attain this ego identity, a positive regard for their life, or withdraw as a symptom of despair (Andrus Gerontology Center; University of Southern California, 2005) A third theory of the time period was continuity theory, which postulated that “individuals tend to maintain a consistent pattern of behavior as they age, substituting similar types of roles for lost ones and keeping typical ways of adapting to the environment” (Hooyman & Kiyak, 2011, p. 319). Individual satisfaction was dependent on how consistent a person was able to maintain the same patterns of behavior. Though attempting to challenge previous theories based on activity and disengagement perspectives, it also did not address any personality differences among aging individuals, nor did it address any political, social, historical or cultural influences on the experience of aging (Hooyman & Kiyak, 2011). It is interesting to note that though continuity theory attempted to challenge the activity theory, it was similar to the activity perspective that that was a positive relationship between social roles and life satisfaction (Howe, 1987). Alternative Theoretical Perspectives
Alternative theories based on a symbolic interaction perspective were developed to address external issues affecting aging...
References: Andrus Gerontology Center; University of Southern California. (2005). The Psychology of Aging: Lecture Part II. Retrieved from http://gero.usc.edu/AgeWorks/core_courses/gero500_core/psychology_lect/index_a.htm
Hooyman, N. R., & Kiyak, H. A. (2011). Social Gerontology, ninth edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Howe, C. Z. (1987). Selected Social Gerontology Theories and Older Adult Leisure Involvement: A Review of the Literature. Journal of Applied Gerontology 6 (448) . Retrieved from http://www.sagepub.com/moody6study/study/articles/controversy1/Howe.pdf. DOI: 10.1177/073346488700600407.
Powell, J. L. (2001). Theorizing Social Gerontology: The Case of Social Philosophies of Age. Liverpool: John Moores University.
Putney, N. M., Alley, D. E., & Bengston, V. L. (2005). Social Gerontology as Public Sociology in Action. The American Sociologist (pp 88-104). Retrieved from DOI: 10.1177/073346488700600407
Taylor, S. E., Peplau, L. A., & Sears, D. O. (2006). Social Psychology. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.
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