Age and aging are social constructions, concepts that are defined by societies and social behavior. Sociologists study what it means to be old in a society, the consequences of aging, and social responses to aging. How elders are treated or mistreated, what opportunities they have, and what challenges they face result from the attitudes, behaviors, institutions, and policies of the wider society. The large and growing populations of elderly people in the United States and other industrialized nations, coupled with the challenges intrinsic to old age, present challenges for these societies. Social policies, such as Social Security for older Americans, are one way that societies respond to aging and to changing demographic compositions.
At A Glance
- Sociologists study the social significance and consequences of aging in different cultures and societies.
Ageism is prejudice and discrimination against older people.
Social responses to age discrimination include laws and policies related to employment, health care, and income.
- In the United States the elderly suffer from relatively high rates of health problems, abuse, neglect, mistreatment, and social isolation.
Challenges of aging include poverty, the decline of multigenerational households, and the problems of growing old in a rural area.
Demography is the study of changes in the size, diversity, distribution, and composition of human populations over time.
- Demographers suggest that the world's age composition has changed and will continue to change as each generation lives longer than the generation before.