Age in Historical and Contemporary Perspectives
People are assigned to different roles and positions based on the age structure and role structure in a particular society. Age structure is the number of people of each age level within the society; role structure is the number and type of positions available to them (Riley and Riley. 1994). Over the years, the age continuum hashas been chopped up into finer and finer points. Two hundred years ago, people divided the age spectrum into “babyhood; a “ery short childhood, and then adulthood. What we would consider “childhood” today was quite different two hundred years ago. when agricultural societies needed a large number of strong arms and backs to work on the land to ensure survival. When 95 percent of the population had to be involved in food production, categories such as toddlers, preschoolers,preteens, teenagers, young adults, the middle- aged, and older persons did not exist. If the physical labor of young people s necessary for society’s survival, then young people are considered “little adults” and are expected to act like adults and do adult work. Older people are also expected to continue to he productive for the benefit of the society as long as they are physically able. In preindustrial societies, people of all ages help with the work, and little training is necessary for the roles that they fill. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the United States, for example. older individuals helped with the work and were respected because they were needed and because few people lived that long.