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Social Gerontology

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1. Explain Erikson's psychosocial model and Levinson's theory as they relate to adulthood. What is successful aging?

Erikson is a theorist who focused his work on the psychosocial development of individuals throughout their life. He found interest in social change, cultural diversity and psychological crises through life (Berger, 2008, p. 36). According to his model, Erikson believed that individuals go through eight specific stages of development that help one achieve their ego identity (Hooyman, N. R. & Kiyak, H. A., 2011). In each of these stages, an individual has a major task that is to be accomplished as well as a conflict that requires being resolved. Each of these conflicts is a foundation for the successive stages of this model; therefore, the outcome of the crisis presented infers how the individual will advance to the next stage. Erickson’s concept explained how during development individuals proceed through these various stages as they grow and become more capable of dealing with issues and relate with society overall.
The stages of Erikson’s psychosocial model are as follows: Stage I is basic trust vs. mistrust. The goal of this stage is to establish a basic trust of the world via trust of parent(s). Stage II is autonomy vs. shame and doubt. Here the individual is to establish a sense of autonomy and self from the parent and to establish self-control vs. doubt of one’s abilities. Stage III is initiative vs. guilt. Individuals are to establish an initiative within parental limits without feeling guilty about their emotional needs. Industry vs. inferiority is stage IV of Erikson’s model. This stage deals with establishing a sense of industry within the setting of school, learning new skills without feelings of inferiority or fear of failure. Ego identity vs. role diffusion is stage V which refers to the establishment of identity, self-concept and role within the larger community without confusion about the self and other social roles. Stage VI is intimacy vs. isolation. In this stage individuals are to establish intimacy and affiliation with one or more without fearing the loss of identity that could result in isolation. Stage VII is generativity vs. stagnation where one is to establish a sense of care and concern for the well-being of others of future generations. Lastly, stage VIII refers to ego integrity vs. despair. This is the point where one is to establish a sense of life’s true meaning rather than feeling despair or bitterness that life was wasted as well as accepting life without despair (Hooyman, N. R. & Kiyak, H. A., 2011). A major duty associated with this last stage is the ability to look inward to understand all the experiences and realize just how these moments have influenced life’s meaning overall. Despite early years of development being important in life, he argued that “identity was not fully formed at the end of adolescence but continued through further stages in adulthood” (Bee/Boyd, 2010, p. 247).
Levinson on the other hand examined development based upon life structures instead of focusing on ego development like Erikson. Out of all the theories related to adult development, this model specifically links each stage of development with a specific chorological age range. Levinson defines these stages as “eras”, each of which lasts approximately 20 years separated by 5 year transitions (Hooyman, N. R. & Kiyak, H. A., 2011). Overall Levinson’s model proposes that growth of individuals occur because of the interactions that take place between the person who is developing as well as the changing and evolving environment around them. The degree an individual is sensitive to how they change, deciphers how they can respond to the changing conditions by modifying expectations of themselves or the environment.
Era I of Levinson’s model is preadulthood which ranges from 0 – 22 years of age. This era is when family provides things like protection, socialization and support for personal growth. This is followed by early adult transition from ages 17-22 that leads into Era II, known as early adulthood from ages 17-45. This is the era of peak biological functioning, development and adult identity. At age 30 is a transition point of settling down followed by a mid-life transition around age 40-45. This leads into Era III, Middle adulthood which ranges from 40-65. At this point in life, Levinson believes that goals become more other-oriented, compassionate roles and mentor roles become assumed. Peak effectiveness as a leader occurs. Culmination of middle adulthood occurs at age 50 transition followed by late adulthood transition at ages 60-65. Finally, Era IV referred to as late adulthood occurs at age 60+. This is the era where capacities that decline become recognized such as anxieties about aging as well as the loss of power and status. Individuals begin to accept in inevitability of death and its occurrence. For Levinson, individuals have the ability to modify their lifestyle in a way to meet the declines of life overall that they will ultimately face as aging continues (Hooyman, N. R. & Kiyak, H. A., 2011).
Researchers and clinicians have grown to become increasingly interested in concepts of successful, vital and positive aging, given the most attention to successful aging. Successful aging is defined as a combination of such things like physical and functional health, high cognitive functioning and active involvement with society (Hooyman, N. R. & Kiyak, H. A., 2011). In more lemans terms, this basically states that a successful older person is one to have low risk for disease and disability, ability to actively use skills needed for mental stimulation, has meaningful social contacts, emotional optimism and contributes in society overall. “Much like the person-environment model, those who age successfully choose and seek positive social experiences and relationships, helping to improve the fit of the social environment” (Hooyman, N. R. & Kiyak, H. A., 2011, pg. 225).

2. Discuss the following social theories of aging: disengagement theory, social exchange theory, and life course perspective.

There are various social theories when it comes to the aspect of aging. In contrast from our own observations about age changes, scientifically, individuals try to explain why and how age change or events occur. By using methods such as these, researchers are able to seek understanding in a way that becomes reliable and valid. Scientists can never completely approve or disapprove a theory but instead work through research that either strengthens or rejects their confidence about a particular idea (Hooyman, N. R. & Kiyak, H. A., 2011). The first transformation of theory is known as the disengagement theory. This is the first theory that shifted attention away from the specific individual to the social system for a way of explaining successful adjustment to aging.
The disengagement theory is the first statement in social aging theory treated as an objective inquiry whereby using surveys and questionnaires different from known policy and practice applications (Hooyman, N. R. & Kiyak, H. A., 2011). It was actually the first comprehensive and multidisciplinary theory developed within social gerontology overall. It was felt aging cannot be understood without the social aspects experience. All societies must have a way of dealing with the transfers of power within generations and must prepare for older members dying. By society creating ways to disengagement, or separate themselves, they can more clearly and adequately deal with problems that lie with aging overall. Disengagement is inevitable and it is important for aging individuals to maintain some sense of self-worth while adjusting to the various life changes which in turn will prepare them for death. Instead of focusing on the aspects of one staying actively emerged in their life and society to stay adjusted, it focuses on old age as a period of time separate from middle age. This particular theory nowadays is very much discounted and unsupported. Not all elders disengage as we see in our society where elders make choices to continue employment, health and overall activity. This theory also neglects to report the variability of individuals within the aging process, therefore, it cannot be presumed that withdrawal or disengagement overall is actually good for society.
Social exchange theory challenges both the activity theory and the disengagement theory. It is believed that withdrawal and social isolation result from unequal exchanges of “investment and returns” between the elderly and the other societal members (Hooyman, N. R. & Kiyak, H. A., 2011). These interactions help determine personal satisfaction of individuals. Due to the aspects accompanied with aging and the shifts associated with this such as various roles, opportunities and skills, some elders unfortunately have little resources available to them and therefore their status within society declines overall. Others may continue to be active in managing the choices and various aspects of their life. With this specific theory model, it is not only about becoming adapted to the environment, it is also about how one adjusts to these changes as well. It is important to realize it isn’t always just about the material resources for the elders and what they have, it is also as simple as the things they carry like love, wisdom, respect and giving back to their society and others. The social exchange theory deals simply with power and opportunity related to development along with the process of aging.
Lastly, life course perspective may not be an actual theory but helps to explain how human development cannot by solely dependent upon incremental growth. It is instead a process encompassing gains and losses of roles and functions within society and the advantages and disadvantages associated. Overall the life course perspective that aging is shaped by influences of cohort, history, location, culture and the developmental factors associated with life events and interactions with others (Hooyman, N. R. & Kiyak, H. A., 2011). It is obvious that individuals do not share the same patterns of development due to so many people experiencing and dealing with different things within their life. The life-course perspective also analyzes how nowadays growing numbers of adult children are taking care of their parent’s generation as the life expectancy continues to increase. It also examines how roles of caregivers affect the overall well-being within old age. This framework also focuses on how individual decisions and choices affect the future as well as exposure to risk and resources (Hooyman, N. R. & Kiyak, H. A., 2011).

3. Discuss some of the patterns and functions of nonpaid roles and activities of older people.

Many elder adults have various abilities and roles they are willing or even able to take on as they move through the aging process. Depending upon various factors such as health, mobility, skill set, etc. decipher what types of activities and/or roles an elder would be open to taking part in. One specific activity an older individual may take part in is leisure. “Leisure is said to be any activity characterized by the absence of obligation, which is satisfying (Hooyman, N. R. & Kiyak, H. A., 2011, pg. 515). Culture greatly influences the concept of leisure and how individuals react. Due to American values of hard work and productivity, especially for elders of the World War II cohort, many elders from this time have not experienced satisfying non-work activities in early phases of life (Hooyman, N. R. & Kiyak, H. A., 2011). Things are changing however, as noted by the growing numbers of businesses and such focused on leisure type activities for middle aged individuals. For elders of color or those who obtain low incomes, leisure may not be something of importance or meaning due to working long hours for survival or perhaps the need to cope with functional disabilities as a whole.
As far as participation for elders and the things they become involved with, religious affiliation is one of the most common choices for older individuals. Religious groups provide a source of support for elders. “Adults 65 and older are the most likely of any age group to belong to a religious group that offers them a loving and supportive community as well as a way to contribute to something overall” (Hooyman, N. R. & Kiyak, H. A., 2011, pg. 518). Studies of religious involvement identify both gender and racial differences overall. Women have higher rates of involvement compared to men and religion appear to be central to the lives of most older Latinos and African Americans in relation to their sense of meaning, personal well-being, self-worth and satisfaction overall. Although broader than religion, spirituality exists within the lives of some elders as well. This is a way for individuals to make sense and understand themselves within their world, something broader than the aspect of religion overall. For older adults, some may seek the meaning and purpose of their life and many turn to this as a way to envision the legacy they hope to leave behind in the world. Most individuals would describe themselves as being both spiritual and religious in the grand scheme of things. The baby boomer era is at a greater chance of describing themselves as spiritual alone.
The aspect of volunteering is another type of a nonpaid role of elders. Volunteering is more characteristic within our society in comparison to others. When volunteering, one makes the choice to serve or help others. Organizations rely on volunteers to help them carry out their missions and provide services to those who need it due to the various cutbacks that continue to occur. Baby boomers tend to spend their time differently and do not focus on specific tasks, often changing abruptly. Female baby boomers are more likely to be employed in society and therefore may not have the time needed to volunteer in comparison to their mothers. Middle life adults are actually found to be the most likely to volunteer which relates to work or family roles of the individual. Older volunteers however tend to place a higher value on meaningful relationships and feel satisfied when helping others (Hooyman, N. R. & Kiyak, H. A., 2011). The primary sites for volunteering for older adults are found to be in places such as religious organizations, social/community services and hospitals. All-in-all, there are various nonpaid roles and activities that elders become involved with, differing in patterns and functions overall.

Berger, K. S. (2008). The developing person: through the life span (7th ed.). New York, New
York: Worth Publishers.
Bee, H. & Boyd, D. (2010). The developing child (12th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon
Hooyman, N. R. & Kiyak, H. A. (2011). Social gerontology: A multidisciplinary perspective, 9th ed., Boston: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.

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