Aging, Death and the Life Course- Sociology Module

As I currently have a piece of coursework on this module, I thought it might be beneficial to write on here the key elements of what I will be including, as although the title of the module can sound a bit morbid, some of the debates and discussions we have had in lectures and seminars are interesting and thought-provoking.

Firstly, we considered what age actually is. Whilst everyone has a chronological number of how many years they have lived for, not everyone feels their age and in some ways age may be a social construction, used to create boundaries of what is and isn’t acceptable for people of different chronological ages i.e. ‘Mutton dressed as lamb’.

Aging is an inevitable process, but one that affects everyone differently. There is physiological aging such as the decline of general health and changes to the body, including wrinkles and a ‘middle aged spread’. There are also earlier changes- height, for example, provides clues to a persons age, with children being much smaller than adults and then a decline  as people become older. We have considered different stages of the lifecourse. One of these is childhood and we thought about how children are seen as vulnerable and in need in protection. We discussed the ‘moral panic’ that children are growing up to quickly in today’s society, through the sexualisation of many items of children’s clothing and their exposure to explicit music and videos. We then thought about how in the past, children were given much more responsibility and took part in paid work from a young age, with greater blurring between childhood and adulthood. Children are now perceived are being dependent on adults but perhaps are more capable than they are given credit for.

The next lifecourse stage is youth and people in this stage are often believed to be in crisis, especially as many young people are seeming to fail to take on the roles or qualities we associate with adulthood, such as responsibility and being independent.  However, we also considered the changes from the ‘Golden Age’ in the 60s, when the life course was much more planned out and employment much more secure. Now, however, part time and temporary work is much more common, there is greater unemployment and so living at home or not ‘settling down’ may actually be adaption, with mobility and flexibility being seen as important qualities by employers.

Following this, we have looked at adulthood as a stage in the life course, one  which many sociologists deem as being the prime stage in most people’s lives and as being dominant over other life course stages. Adulthood is largely defined by being in employment (which the very young and the elderly are excluded from), however, whilst previously there were certain markers for this stage, such as moving out the family home, getting married, having children… there is now thought to be new aims for young people, as to what they see as being important in adulthood. These are more based on subjective feelings, relationships and ‘alternative’ practical accomplishments and behaviour, such as travelling. Adulthood also seems to have been prolonged as a stage in the life course with people remaining in employment for long, having children later, taking better care of their bodies through diet and exercise and also through health advancements such as IVF, as well as cosmetics and plastic surgery, all hiding signs of aging. We considered cohorts, a person’s location in historical time, and how an adult’s experience in post-modern society is very different to the kind of experiences they would have had in the beginning to mid 1900s.  One key difference has been the opportunities that women now have, being able to enter paid work, having the right to divorce and vote etc. Current cohorts of adult women, therefore, have quite extreme differences in their life course experiences.

Finally we have thought about old age and the inequalities the elderly experience, largely based on the stereotypes given to old age. Gender, Class and Ethnicity also impact the elderly differently in regards to their financial situations and treatment or care by others. Old age is a feared stage of the life course by many, however it was really interesting to learn that old people themselves are pleasantly surprised to find that their experiences aren’t as bad as society makes out, with most not being lonely, unhappy or in ill health. However, what is a problem is ageism and we learnt how old people are often infantilized, when actually the majority are very capable of looking after themselves. In fact, many old people have reported feeling much younger inside than their chronological age and feel that their external bodies are a mask for the real person inside.

This module has made me think a lot about where people’s identities come from. For me, my family and friends probably play the most important role for this it is these people I share so much of my life experiences from.  It’s made me think about those who don’t have people around them, which is more often the case with the elderly. It is so important, therefore, to care and have relationships with older people, whilst at the same time allowing them to keep their independence and identity.

Anyway, bit of a ramble…now have got to expand on some of these areas to create a 2500 word essay!

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Joanna graduated from the University in Summer 2013 and is no longer blogging for this site.

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