Functionalist Perspectives on Aging
Functionalist explanations of aging focus on how older persons adjust to their changing roles in society. According to the sociologist Talcott Parsons (1960), the roles of older persons nee,1 to he redefined by society. He suggested that devaluing the contributions of older persons is dysfunctional for society; older persons often have knowledge and wisdom to share with younger people.
How does society cope with the’ disruptions resulting from its members growing older and’ dying? According to disengagement theory. older penon. make a normal and healthy adjustment to aging when they detach themselves from their social roles and prepare for their eventual death (Cumming and Henry, 1961). Gerontologists Elaine C. Command William William E. Henry (1961) noted hat disengagement can be functional for both the individual and society. For example. the withdrawal of older persons from the work force provides employment opportunities for younger people. Disengagement also aids a gradual and orderly transfer of statuses and roles from one generation to the next; an abrupt change would result in chaos. Retirement Then, can. be thought of as recognition for years of service and the acknowledgment that the person no longer fits into the world of paid work. The younger workers who move into the vacated positions have received more up-to-date training-for example, the computer skills that are aught to most younger people today.
Critics of this perspective object to the assumption that all older persons want to disengage while they are still productive and still gain satisfaction from their work. Disengagement may be functional for organizations but not for individuals. A corporation that as compulsory retirement may be able to replace higher paid, older workers with lower-paid, younger workers. but retirement may not be beneficial for some older workers. Contrary to disengagement theory, a number of studies have found that activity in society is more important with increasing age