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Controversy 1

Controversy 1. Does Old Age Have Meaning?. The Meaning of Age. Humans live in a world full of symbolism and shared meaning “Meaning” is so powerful, it can even be a matter of life or death Two questions examined in the textbook are: Does old age have a meaning for society?

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Controversy 1

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  1. Controversy 1 Does Old Age Have Meaning?

  2. The Meaning of Age • Humans live in a world full of symbolism and shared meaning • “Meaning” is so powerful, it can even be a matter of life or death • Two questions examined in the textbook are: • Does old age have a meaning for society? • How do individuals actually experience their lives as meaningful in the last stage of life? • Social gerontology seeks to answer these questions by studying to areas of life that provide contrasting views of activity and disengagement: • Leisure and religion

  3. Leisure Activities in Later Life • In old age, leisure often begins to take the place of work, both in terms of having more free time, and as a way of finding meaning in life • Leisure – defined as an activity engaged in for its own sake; an end in itself • Stereotypes of “old people’s activities” (e.g., shuffleboard, bingo, etc.) are mistaken • Age alone doesn’t predict what people do with their leisure time in later life • Old people are not all alike • Individual differences, gender, and SES all play a big part

  4. Changing Leisure Participation Patterns • People over age 65 continue to engage in the same activities with the same people as they did in middle age • Patterns of late-life leisure have important implications for the economy in an aging society • Americans over age 50 account for 40% of all consumer spending • Education and income are the biggest factors in how older people spend their free time • Retired people who have more money have more choices, and are more likely to change their patterns of activity more often

  5. Religion and Spirituality • Three-quarters of older Americans say that religion is “very important” in their lives • Religious involvement in old age tends to follow a pattern of “multidimensional disengagement”: • As people grow older, they may withdraw from some activities (such as attending church), but show an increase in personal religious practice (such as Bible study or listening to religious TV and radio)

  6. Religious Involvement • Older Americans continue to display patterns of religious identification similar to those among younger age groups: • 65% = Protestant, 25% = Catholic, 3% = Jewish • Older women have higher levels of religious participation and belief than older men • Churches and religious organizations play many roles in the lives of older people: • Formal religious programs • Pastoral care programs • Sponsors or providers of social services

  7. Religious Participation and Well-Being • Studies have shown a positive correlation between well-being and religious beliefs among older individuals • But it’s difficult to define and measure what “religiousness” actually means in people’s lives • Also unclear whether or not religious involvement actually promotes physical health • Yet, social scientists theorize that religion helps older adults cope in many ways: • Reducing the impact of stress in late-life illness • Providing a sense of order and meaning in life • Offering social networks tied to religious groups • Strengthening inner psychological resources, such as self-esteem

  8. Spirituality and the Search for Meaning • While habits of religiosity tend to remain stable in later life, a recent study found that 40% of people who experienced a distinct change in faith did so after age 50 • “Faith stages” – James Fowler’s (1981) theory that people move from simpler, more literalist idea of religion to levels where they see themselves in more universal terms • Six dimensions of “spiritual well-being”: --Self-determined wisdom --Acceptance of the totality of life --Self-transcendence --Revival of spirituality --Discovery of meaning in aging --Preparation for death

  9. Social Gerontology and the Meaning of Age • Gerontology tries to depict the facts of old age as a way of understanding the meaning of aging • Nearly 90% of people surveyed described their lives as meaningful • 57% of meaning came from human relationships, 12% from service to others, as well as religion and leisure activities • Older people might still be encouraged to maintain social connections, but this engagement should be based on a strategy for individual development – not conformity to social norms or activities

  10. The Meaning of Aging in the 21st Century • The life course perspective views “stages of life” as social constructions that reflect broader structural conditions of life • Thus, as conditions change, so will the view of how people find meaning at different ages • It’s not clear how the meaning of old age will change in contemporary, post-industrial society • We must distinguish between a meaning that society ascribes to old age, compared to what individuals find meaningful in their own lives

  11. Activity or Reflection? • The question of whether old age has meaning comes back to two alternatives: 1. continuation of midlife values into old age or 2. discovering some new or special challenge that belongs to the last stage of life • Either way, the future of an aging society will be shaped by all of us, because we are all simply “our future selves”

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