Aging, Society, and the Life Course, Fourth Edition

Handbook of Aging and the Social Sciences
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The rapidly changing and economically vulnerable world has made retirement uncertain for many and even impossible for some. The decision to retire for most individuals is also not an individual decision but one that is tied to a spouse and the needs of other family members. This, too, makes retirement unpredictable. The definitions of retirement today therefore demand new exploration. Why and under what conditions do—or can—Americans retire?

Will retirement become the privilege of a select few?

13.1. Who Are the Elderly? Aging in Society

How people think about retirement—its possibilities and constraints—must be understood in the context of their prior work history and their anticipated future goals, including what retirees expect and need, how long their health will permit them to work, and the like. The emphasis now put on retirement planning early on in work careers should also lead to greater planning for later life Ekerdt, At the same time, fears about the viability of retirement are real for many people and raise vexing problems—especially for women, due to persistently high divorce rates Wong and Hardy, Women who are today in their 50s and 60s, and younger, have come to know a world in which marital disruption is common.

Unlike prior generations, these women cannot count on marriage as a source of economic security Shuey and O'Rand, And yet their economic security is threatened, especially in the long term, when marriage and parenthood lead them to opt out of or reduce their labor force participation. If their marriages last less than 10 years, women also lose the ability to draw Social Security benefits through their spouses Meyer and Herd, The complexity of contemporary women's marital histories, in conjunction with their work histories, will affect their security in later life in ways that must be better understood for their sake and for the sake of society.

Studies are needed to assess the effect of divorce and employment history on women's risk of downward socioeconomic mobility. Minority group status compounds the disadvantages faced by women Montez, Angel, and Angel, African American women are less likely to have employment-based health coverage than non-Hispanic white women, but Mexican-origin women are far less likely than any other group to have retirement income from any source. This has important implications for the economic security of large groups of women in Baby Boom cohorts who will reach retirement age in the coming decade.

Gender aside, the serious challenges to retirement for older workers and retirees amid financial disruption are similarly illustrated in the lives of members of the ethnically diverse U. For example, Mexican-origin immigrants who are working in low-wage jobs in the informal economy or even outside of legal labor markets are uniquely at risk of economic exploitation Massey and Squires, Foreign-born women of Mexican origin often find jobs in the service sector, such as elder care, that are subject to low pay, few benefits, and labor violations Angel, Research on the sociology of aging will aid in ascertaining the risks and uncertainties of retirement planning and decision making for the growing numbers of people in the labor force who are truly disadvantaged, as well as those in the middle class whose once stable lives have now been undermined or undone by the current recession.

These conditions have made it more difficult for individuals to put aside money for retirement. The difficulties of projecting life expectancy after age 65 only magnify the challenges of retirement planning Hardy, As we will discuss next, social policies, including retirement policies, must be revised to reflect the realities of life today. During the 20th century, the modern welfare state became synonymous with the assurance of a wide range of individual protections, the most basic of which are retirement security and access to preventive and curative health care.

Although Medicare, Medicaid, and the new State Children's Health Insurance Program SCHIP provide health-care coverage for poor children and the elderly, there are significant gaps in the health-care safety net, especially for those who are no longer children and not yet old. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act also referred to as the Affordable Care Act or ACA of made coverage less expensive for individuals, families, and self-employed businesses by expanding Medicaid coverage and subsidizing health-care premiums purchased through the Exchanges.

Even so, it is likely that many women, racial minorities, and chronically ill adults will spend a substantial fraction of their limited incomes to cover health- and long-term care costs Wiener, Historically institutionalized gender role differences in labor force attachment have created a system that places some women at a disadvantage, as noted earlier. Current debates about entitlement reform must be informed by knowledge of the structural barriers to coverage for minority and older women, including risks related to marriage Meyer and Herd, Longer lives and bigger populations come with great costs.

The United States faces major challenges in financing the retirement and health-care needs of older people alongside those of defense, infrastructure, education, and economic growth. Other countries with mature welfare states, aging populations, and costly welfare programs also share these challenges. The current period of serious globalized financial crises has led to attempts to decrease the state's role in social insurance Palier, Policies and laws that regulate retirement plans are one example.

Today, employers are shifting their retirement plans from defined benefit to defined contribution plans Hardy, This means that even among those minority workers who participate in an employer-sponsored plan, their accumulated savings may be insufficient to guarantee an adequate income in old age.

Given inequalities in society, some groups of people are much better positioned in health and in wealth to manage a prolonged old age. Although Social Security has reduced the most serious poverty among the elderly, health and economic security require accumulated wealth and private retirement plans.

There is also a highly unequal distribution of retirement income among Baby Boomers Wright, The shrinking younger population, coupled with later entry of young adults into the full-time workforce, comes at a time when the strain on pension and long-term care systems is approaching a crisis level Wolf and Amirkhanyan, In most superpower economies, the welfare of younger workers is at stake because their work lives are more irregular and the security offered through their wages and benefits pales in comparison to what cohorts now in their later years knew.

Japan provides a good case example. The country has the largest percentage of older adults aged 65 and over worldwide, and it is the only major industrial nation with higher labor force participation rates among older workers than the United States Higo and Williamson, Employers relegate young workers to so-called irregular or temporary jobs without any job security or benefits to protect older workers, undermining innovation and the economy.

Women are less likely than men to occupy full-time positions, explained in part by cultural reasons. In the end, the young generation of highly educated Japanese workers in low-paying jobs is at high risk of compromised career mobility. Population aging in the United States brings serious and long-term financial consequences for how individuals and employers will fund Social Security and private retirement plans, including defined contribution plans like k s.

As mentioned earlier, despite the increase in retirement age to 67, the majority of male American workers in older cohorts have retired and begun to collect Social Security benefits early in the 21st century.

Aging society and the life course fourth edition download Aging, Society, and the Life Course, Fourth Edition ( ): Leslie A. Morgan PhD, Suzanne R. Kunkel PhD: Books. Doody's Score: 91, 4 Stars"[This] book's unfading preoccupation with social context, social processes, and social structures distinguishes itself.

As the size and stability of pensions fade away, the fate of retirement for people in the early and middle phases of their work lives must be ascertained. They will find it much more difficult to save for retirement than did their older peers. As the so-called Silver Tsunami of retirements of Baby Boomers hits this decade, their numbers will heighten existing public and political concern about the adequacy of Social Security retirement income and the viability of the Social Security program. This situation is part of a more general crisis for municipal and state governments, independent of the federal government, which made retirement fund commitments far exceed what they could ever have realistically funded Estes, Furthermore, the issue of whether countries with well-developed pension systems can sustain themselves as their populations age has as yet to be fully appreciated Lassila and Valkonen, As the elderly population continues to age, it will be important to learn how, and to what extent, governments in continental Europe and the United States are shifting the burden of old-age supports to individuals and their families.

Understanding how Social Security and retirement policies and programs, and changes in them, affect the ability and choices of older people to pass on wealth to the generations beneath them merits attention and further investigation. Analyses of detailed information on key predictors of intergenerational support by adult children and older parents—including demographic factors, health, personal income and assets, and government transfers—can begin to address this question. At the macroeconomic level, it is important to contextualize how the welfare state e.

Harmonizing these surveys would provide insights into the pressing political question of whether more generous old-age welfare states are associated with lower personal savings. The undeniable facts of aging in the United States will impact the social contract between generations. A portrait of the workforce and retirement population will look much different than it did in the past and directly affects who will pay for the oncoming wave of Boomer retirees Angel and Settersten, In , there were 40 workers for every retired person receiving Social Security.

However, as a result of increasing immigration from Latin America and Asia, the changing age structure, and the aging of Baby Boomers themselves, by each retiree will depend on the contributions of slightly more than two workers. The implications of the higher old-age dependency ratio are profound. While the working-age population is becoming increasingly minority, the older retired population is predominantly non-Hispanic and white. This situation is particularly pronounced in states like Texas, where, by , more than half of the labor force will be Hispanic.


Overview Doody's Score: 91, 4 Stars [This] book's unfading preoccupation with social context, social processes, and social structures distinguishes itself and greatly contributes to the discourse in gerontology. Figure Professor George is the author or editor of eight books and author of more than journal articles and book chapters. Previsto entre el vie. Web MD. Others, however, are able to achieve a strong sense of integrity, embracing the new phase in life.

Projecting the unintended consequences of rationing and budgeting decisions is essential to making good social policy. Future generations will be taxed at higher rates to cover the cost of these programs at the same time that their own retirement income benefit levels will erode Quadagno, Kail, and Shekha, A system in which minority workers are taxed largely to support nonminority seniors undermines its political legitimacy and survival.

Population aging brings serious questions about the sustainability of Social Security that deserve closer scrutiny Lee, While the magnitude of the change in population size is inexact, population scientists must forecast how the solvency balance in the U. Social Security Trust Fund will be affected by the whole demographic trajectory, not just the old-age dependency ratio in a particular year Lee and Mason, a. The extent to which the future generation of workers will receive a fair rate of return on their lifetime contributions to the Social Security system must be examined.

How will an increasingly diverse workforce put many aging Americans at risk? Under what conditions will there be public support for Social Security reform? The negative ramifications of the current recession on the lives of older Americans are not yet understood. These years have clearly jeopardized the well-being of many older adults, especially those in the middle class who, despite having Social Security and retirement savings, may not have enough to get by.

Researchers must also investigate and understand how the old-age welfare state affects the generational dynamics in different national contexts, especially with respect to what constitutes a minimum level of human security and what responsibilities should be shouldered by those who receive it Lee and Mason, b. In a period of economic retrenchment—in which attacks on welfare programs are increasing, and in which the need to scale back or to prevent the expansion of income and health-care entitlements are unavoidable—young workers, among whom racial minorities are overrepresented, face particular risks Palier, The aging of Baby Boomer cohorts will also increase competition for funding among various recipient groups and the potential for conflict across cohorts.

Because of limited government funding, the needs of impoverished women and children compete with those of the disabled and the elderly Quadagno et al. Historically, federal expenditures for older people have been higher than for the young and, as a result, private investments in children are quite significant.

One recent estimate is that family transfers account for more than half 57 percent of total expenditures on children Issacs, ; Mason et al. Although children constitute the majority of Medicaid enrollees, the majority of Medicaid funding is spent on care for the disabled and the elderly. Almost half of federal spending on long-term care comes from Medicaid O'Brien, As the older population grows in size and average age, the need for home- and community-based long-term services, as well as nursing care, will increase, and a large share of these cohorts will spend-down to Medicaid eligibility Wolf and Amirkhanyan, As a result of recent heath-care reform, the ACA has changed the system of health-care financing, but it is unclear how it will directly affect the cost of care for millions of Americans.

As national health-care expenditures grow toward 20 percent of gross domestic product, efforts to control costs seem inevitable Congressional Budget Office, Medicare enrollment growth is anticipated to be the major force driving public health-care spending in the future, and expenditures will be fueled largely by the new prescription drug benefit and the rapid growth of Baby Boomer cohorts as they move into and through retirement Starr, If Medicaid continues to pay less than other forms of insurance, providers may not participate unless they are forced to do so.

Reducing the costs of Medicare Advantage plans could create additional disparities among low-income elderly Berenson and Holahan, A huge issue is how much insurers should be able to vary premium rates depending on age Starr, Finally, because the new realities of population aging may play out differently in various cultural, economic, and policy contexts, comparative policy perspectives deserve special consideration Kinsella and He, While any given country may choose to address economic and social challenges with a particular blend of policies, how those policies play out depends, at least in part, on how other countries configure their approaches.

In the end, this may encourage more uniformity across countries or reinforce the existing divisions between high- and low-income countries. One of the most poignant examples is the Mexico-U. These societies are contending with multiple demands for public use of scarce resources, and they have overlapping, interdependent populations and family networks that transcend their border. A serious global aging agenda will demand that the economic and social welfare institutions of countries interact, and that the roles of women, ethnic minorities, and new immigrants be redefined, to better ensure the social protection of vulnerable populations.

We have addressed some of the new realities of aging as they are shaped by contemporary social and economic contexts. We summarized some of the most pressing causes and consequences of change and identified some of the most pressing issues that must be addressed in future scholarship and social policy.

Given the emphases of the volume, we close by identifying some of the potential theoretical and practical contributions that make sociology central to the science of human aging. As this chapter and our Handbook of Sociology of Aging Settersten and Angel, have illustrated, sociology is particularly important in revealing important social structural factors associated with individual and population aging.

Aging is a phenomenon that is heavily conditioned by social institutions, historical events, policies, the economy, cohort momentum, social interaction, and intergenerational dynamics. Social change is central to the sociologist's lens to deal with the inevitable fact that social institutions and practices do not remain static, which forces us to challenge taken-for-granted assumptions that are based on outdated theoretical models.

An understanding of macro processes, too often ignored in the study of aging, must be incorporated in new models of individual and population well-being in later life. A strong focus on the individual factors associated with aging carries the risk of losing sight of how social structures both affect and are affected by aging. As sociologists we have an obligation to keep social forces and factors front and center in our inquiry. While calling for greater attention to structural and macro forces, we reiterate the importance of individual biography and the influence of past life history on aging at the individual level.

Individual life course studies have yielded many new insights into the process of aging. Among these is the recognition that aging is a lifelong process and old age cannot be understood without accounting for the many decades of life that came before. Aging is a process that is intimately intertwined with other people, institutions, and structures.

It is ironic, then, that researchers often analyze aging as if it is somehow a purely individual experience. Individuals may be asked to report on the people close to them, or inventories may be taken of life events and transitions that necessarily involve other people e. But seldom do we study the friction of human lives in action, as intimates attempt to mesh their lives together and as decisions and goals are co-constructed through iterative and often difficult processes of negotiation.

Most, if not all, of life's most important markers are built on those social interactions. In contemplating the significance of linked lives, it is important to probe how the quantity and quality of social ties change as individuals move through different periods of life, as they enter or exit from social settings, and how they are affected by social policies. At a micro level, the linked or interdependent nature of lives creates unexpected changes and circumstances.

Interdependence may constrain or foreclose opportunities, or drain individuals of important resources—just as they may open opportunities or provide important resources. Linked lives must also be understood at a higher level of analysis—across generations in a society, or across nations in the world. Sociological research on aging routinely demonstrates the high degree of variability in the social order and lives of older people, consciousness about which has also been promoted by popular theories of cumulative advantage and disadvantage.

Despite this work, the field is in much need of a comprehensive treatment of variability and investigations of its social sources and social consequences. New and existing institutional contexts will influence the ways in which economic, political, and social organizations address the problems and opportunities associated with aging and the character of variability. The great focus on variability also causes us to lose sight of shared experiences of aging that are equally important to understand.

The need to keep the social in focus is heightened by reductionist tendencies in science and the contemporary focus on genomes and genetics Angel and Settersten, ; Settersten, When traveling further out into social spaces and attempting to take them into account, empirical work becomes more difficult. The tendency in scientific disciplines such as psychology, economics, and biology is to dismiss external social forces as far too unwieldy to measure or as being already represented in lower-order measures.

As sociologists, this means that we must make them discernable, which will also require advances in our measurement and methods Hauser and Weir, It is our responsibility to lead the way and trace these connections across levels of analysis see also Shanahan, this volume. The family is an especially important context on which to focus. As the National Institute on Aging , p.

That is, sociology can help unearth individuals' awareness of the social constraints and incentives that affect their actions, but importantly, it demands more precise accounts of social settings beyond the family and interpersonal relationships that shape and set parameters on human aging see also Diewald and Mayer, Models of individual cognitive, volitional, or emotional states will have limited explanatory power if they do not sufficiently account for how larger social settings regulate aging-related tasks and opportunities.

Aging is one of the most intricate scientific puzzles, posing many significant challenges for individuals, families, and societies. Sociological research is crucial to unlocking that puzzle and understanding the properties of social institutions, social organization, and social interaction in an aging world. As sociologists, we must remember that there are people behind the numbers, and we have an obligation to understand them both as whole people and in relation to the multiple social contexts in which they live.

In the face of increasingly specialized and fine-grained empirical work, we should place more value on the tasks of integration, synthesis, reflection, and theoretical development. These points speak to the need to develop a science of greater meaning, for the people and phenomena we study are rich and complex. Turn recording back on. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Search term. Anticipating the Future of Aging Much knowledge about aging is based on cohorts born in the first few decades of the 20th century.

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Kreider RM, Ellis R. Living Arrangements of Children: P; Washington, DC: U.

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