Sociological Perspectives on Aging
Sociologists and social gerontologists have developed a number of explanations regarding the social effects of aging. Some of the early theories were based on a microlevel analysis of how individuals adapt to changing social roles. More-recent theories have used a mac
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 wisd m to share with younger people. How does society cope with the’ disruptions resulting from its members growing older and’ dying? According to disengagement rheory. 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. Cumming and William E. Henry (1961) noted that 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 taught 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 has compulsory retirement may be able to replace higher paid, older workers with lower-paid, younger workers.
but retirement may not be beneficial for some olderworkers. Contrary to disengagement theory, a number of studies have found that activity in society is more important with increasing age.