Status of the Aged
Old, in many primitive or traditional societies, is highly honored, perhaps because, in such a society, the old are closest to the source of hallowed tradition. Thus in pre-Communist China, the grandmother was the reigning female in the multiple-family home and the grandfather was a patriarch whose whim was close to law. In agricultural societies, it was practical for old persons to shift gradually to less strenuous work as their strength waned, but they were still respected for their wisdom and were provided with security and companionship within a three- or four-generational household. Most people. worked, as much as they were able, until entirely incapacitated and then usually died quite quickly. "Retirement" was practically unknown.
The industrial revolution removed most of the aged from a landowning income base and offered few jobs to persons of declining energy. Most of the aged were dependent upon children or charity. Rapid social change made useless the "wisdom" of the aged, who might be loved but were seldom consulted or respected and were simply marking time until death [Atchley, 1980; Harris and Cole, 1980]. As shown in Table 5-1, this is changing. The proportion of the aged has increased partly because of lower birthrates reducing the proportion of young people) and partly because of lower death rates among the aged since about 1950., Private pensions and Social Security have made fewer of the aged pendent on children or charity. Aged-based' retirement has ended work for many who are still healthy and vigorous. For the first time in history, retirement(before total exhaustion)
has become a reality for most' people. Increased numbers have brought greater political power, offsetting the modern tendency
to simply ignore the age. The new: disciplines of geriatrics and gerontology study tile aging process and the problems of the aged. Al though many of the aged are still lonely or poor or both, the. status of the aged has . become far. more comfortable in recent decades.