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Social Gerontology

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Each person has a definite period of life that is called golden age. We identify this period with the success in personal and professional life or with the growth of advancement. Sometimes golden age may be in late adulthood when everything has been achieved in life. Social problems of old age are learnt by the social gerontology (Hooyman, 2008). Social gerontology is very popular nowadays and based on such theories and models as Erikson’s psychological model and Levinson’s theory, disengagement theory, social exchange theory and life course perspective theory.

In the first place, Erikson created “eight-stage psychosocial model of the life cycle” (Whitbourne, 2002). The main idea of the model could be described by the changes in person’s life, when one passes through different life cycles. Adolescence is the initial life cycle when adults go through three major crisis stages: intimacy with isolation (early and middle adults), generativity with stagnation and ego integrity with despair (old age) (Whitbourne, 2002). At every stage adult has social needs that he ought to satisfy. The author paid more attention to the old age and ego in his model. For the late adulthood, he identified the main functions of ego: self-definition and self-awareness (Whitbourne, 2002). Overall, all old aged people cannot have the same characteristics and their life styles depend on person’s character and life situation.

In the second place, Levinson offered a new theory of life stages(Wrightsman, 1994). He divided life’s period in five main stages - from youth to senility. Each of the periods has several characteristics: ages from 16 through 24 years  - early adult transition that is described as the beginning of a new life far from family, 24-28 – getting acquainted with the adult world, 29 – 34 – smoothing, 35-40 or 42 – becoming personality, early forties: midlife transition, over 45  - reorientation on late adulthood.Adulthood is a number of periods of life from stability to transition. The sociologist considered that life structure should be evolutionary. Levinson’s structure was similar to the social life structures that were developed previously by sociologists. Its distinctive feature was based on constant development of the personality (Wrightsman, 1994).

In the third place, disengagement theory was offered by Cumming and Henry in 1961. Disengagementwas described as necessary and adaptingaccording to the social system. Disengagement theory demonstrates that older people may lose their previous active roles in life and start a quiet life. The theory is a description of readiness to the old age. Nevertheless, disengagement theory is used seldom today for an explanation of social problems in old age as there are a lot of examples of people who feel themselves pretty well and even do not feel themselves older than they are (Hooyman, 2008).

Social exchange theory was developed by Thibaut and Kelley in 1959. It describes an exchange process of investments and returns between older people and other generations (Mower-White, 1982). Exchange may differ, for example, it can be based on moral needs and experience. The notion of social exchange is an interchange in forms of bargaining and trading (Mower-White, 1982). Social exchange means necessity of repayment. Bargainingbegins when people start to contact with each other (Mower-White, 1982).

Theory of life course perspective was called a framework (Li, 2008). Glen Elder Jr. identifies the connection between aging and development in accordance with time and social needs. Life course shows “decline, stability and improvement” (Li, 2008) with the flow of years. The theory of life course perspective explores the role of individual that is getting weaker when outside environment develops. Gerontologists explain life course as an integral part of people’s lives. Life course perspective has such features as changing and development (Li, 2008).

Furthermore, older adults perform nonpaid roles and activities at the age of late fifties. There are old people that cover different social classes and, according to this fact, some of them get accustomed to one activity more than to another. Leisure is an activity that is similar to people at all life circles but retired people are more accustomed to solitude, reading or visiting relatives (Hooyman, 2008). Religiosity and spirituality are the main features of old adults as they face such period of their lives when it is necessary to analyze everything they had passed. Civic engagement is characterized as involvement in some city group or organization to help poor people, severely ill children and homeless animals. Abovementioned activities may also be compared with participation in voluntary organizations. People over fifties feel themselves healthy and happy when they feel that somebody needs their help and support (Hooyman, 2008).

Successful aging cannot be definitely identified because for each person it can be in different periods of life. Hooyman (2008) mentions in her book Social Gerontology: A Multidisciplinary Perspective that the most successful aging is between 28 and 40. The preparation to retirement and death takes place after these years.

To sum up, gerontologists do not have exact solutions on problems of older people and their development. Everything depends on character, soul, moral features and physical abilities of person. Life course perspective attempts to connect development of environment with inner sensation of old person.  According to Glen Elder’s thoughts, Erikson’s eight-stage psychosocial model of the life cycle is the most approximate to today’s life of social changes and technical achievements. Golden age is different for everybody, and there are no exact characteristics of oncoming of this period. 

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