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Some older adults even succumb to stereotyping their own age group Rothbaum, In North America, the experience of being elderly has changed greatly over the past century. In the late s and early s, many U. They offered wisdom and support to their children and often helped raise their grandchildren Sweetser, Today, with most households confined to the nuclear family, attitudes toward the elderly have changed. In , of the 13,, private households in the country, only about , of them 3.

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It is no longer typical for older relatives to live with their children and grandchildren. Attitudes toward the elderly have also been affected by large societal changes that have happened over the past years. Researchers believe industrialization and modernization have contributed greatly to lowering the power, influence, and prestige the elderly once held.

The elderly have both benefitted and suffered from these rapid social changes. In modern societies, a strong economy created new levels of prosperity for many people. Health care has become more widely accessible and medicine has advanced, allowing the elderly to live longer. However, older people are not as essential to the economic survival of their families and communities as they were in the past.

Aging Society and the Life Course Fourth Edition

While the average person now lives 20 years longer than they did 90 years ago Statistics Canada, , the prestige associated with age has declined. Since the first national census in , the Canadian government has been tracking age in the population every 10 years Statistics Canada, a. Age is an important factor to analyze with accompanying demographic figures, such as income and health. The population pyramid below shows projected age distribution patterns for the next several decades. In Canada, the median age is about 40 Statistics Canada, b.

That means that about half of Canadians are under 40 and about half are over The median age of women is higher than men, Overall the median age of Canadians has been increasing, indicating that the population as a whole is growing older. It is interesting to note, however, that the proportion of senior citizens in Canada is lower than most of the other G8 countries. In , A cohort is a group of people who share a statistical or demographic trait.

People belonging to the same age cohort were born in the same time frame. The bulge in the pyramid clearly becomes more rounded in the future, indicating that the proportion of senior cohorts will continue to increase with respect to the younger cohorts in the population. This is key to planning for everything from the funding of pension plans and health care systems to calculating the number of immigrants needed to replenish the workforce. It is much more pyramidal in form than the graphs for the Canadian population as a whole see Figure The aboriginal population is much younger than the Canadian population as a whole, with a median age of Sociological studies on aging might help explain the difference between Native American age cohorts and the general population.

While Native American societies have a strong tradition of revering their elders, they also have a lower life expectancy because of lack of access to quality health care. In Canada, all people over age 18 are considered adults, but there is a large difference between a person aged 21 and a person who is In the same way, groupings are helpful in understanding the elderly.

The elderly are often lumped together, grouping everyone over the age of The older adult population can be divided into three life-stage subgroups: the young-old approximately 65—74 , the middle-old ages 75—84 , and the old-old over age In North America, people are better able to prepare for aging because resources are more widely available. Also, many people are making proactive quality-of-life decisions about their old age while they are still young.

Aging, Society, and the Life Course, Fourth Edition

In the past, family members made care decisions when an elderly person reached a health crisis, often leaving the elderly person with little choice about what would happen. The elderly are now able to choose housing, for example, that allows them some independence while still providing care when it is needed.

Living wills, retirement planning, and medical powers of attorney are other concerns that are increasingly handled in advance. However, the gender imbalance in the sex ratio of men to women is increasingly skewed toward women as people age. This imbalance in life expectancy has larger implications because of the economic inequality between men and women. The population of old-old women are the cohort with the greatest needs for care, but because many women did not work outside the household during their working years and those who did earned less on average than men, they receive the least retirement benefits.

What does it mean to be elderly? Some define it as an issue of physical health, while others simply define it by chronological age. The Canadian government, for example, typically classifies people aged 65 years old as elderly, at which point citizens are eligible for federal benefits such as Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security payments.

The World Health Organization has no standard, other than noting that 65 years old is the commonly accepted definition in most core nations, but it suggests a cut-off somewhere between 50 and 55 years old for semi-peripheral nations, such as those in Africa World Health Organization, CARP formerly the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, now just known as CARP no longer has an eligible age of membership because they suggest that people of all ages can begin to plan for their retirement.


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This is especially important now that many people are working to age 70 and beyond. There is an element of social construction, both local and global, in the way individuals and nations define who is elderly; that is, the shared meaning of the concept of elderly is created through interactions among people in society. This is exemplified by the truism that you are only as old as you feel.

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Statistics Canada estimates that by the percentage will increase to There are several reasons why Canada is greying so rapidly. One of these is life expectancy : the average number of years a person born today may expect to live. When reviewing Statistics Canada figures that group the elderly by age, it is clear that in Canada, at least, we are living longer. Baby boomers began to reach the age of 65 in Finally, the proportion of old to young can be expected to continue to increase because of the below-replacement fertility rate i.

A low birth rate contributes to the higher percentage of older people in the population. As we noted above, not all Canadians age equally. Most glaring is the difference between men and women; as Figure In , there were ninety toyear-old men per one hundred toyear-old women.

Nevertheless, as the graph shows, the sex ratio actually increased over time, indicating that men are closing the gap between their life spans and those of women Statistics Canada, c. Of particular interest to gerontologists right now are the consequences of the aging population of baby boomers , the cohort born between and and just now reaching age Coming of age in the s and early s, the baby boom generation was the first group of children and teenagers with their own spending power and therefore their own marketing power Macunovich, As this group has aged, it has redefined what it means to be young, middle-aged, and, now, old.

People in the boomer generation do not want to grow old the way their grandparents did; the result is a wide range of products designed to ward off the effects—or the signs—of aging. The baby boom generation is the cohort driving much of the dramatic increase in the over population. As we can see in Figure As time progresses, the population bulge moves up in age.

In the oldest baby boomers were just reaching the age at which Statistics Canada considers them elderly. In , we can predict, the baby boom bulge will continue to rise up the pyramid, making the largest Canadian population group between 65 and 85 years old. This aging of the baby boom cohort has serious implications for society. Health care is one of the areas most impacted by this trend. For years, hand-wringing has abounded about the additional burden the boomer cohort will place on the publicly funded health care system.

The main sources of cost increase to the health care system come from inflation, rising overall population, and advances in medical technologies new pharmaceutical drugs, surgical techniques, diagnostic and imaging techniques, and end-of-life care. With respect to end-of-life care, the average Canadian now receives approximately one and a half times more health care services than the average Canadian did in Lee, Even with modest economic growth, existing levels of health care service can be maintained without difficulty if the total increase in costs of health care from all sources, including aging, result in an annual increase in health care budget expenditures of 4.

Other studies indicate that aging boomers will bring economic growth to the health care industries, particularly in areas like pharmaceutical manufacturing and home health care services Bierman, Unlike the elderly of previous generations, boomers do not expect that turning 65 means their active lives are over. They are not willing to abandon work or leisure activities, but they may need more medical support to keep living vigorous lives. This desire of a large group of overyear-olds wanting to continue with a high activity level is driving innovation in the medical industry Shaw, It is not until the final year of life that health care expenditures undergo a dramatic increase.

The implication is that with people living increasingly longer and healthier lives, the issue of the cost of health care and aging needs to be refocused on end-of-life care options.

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Chapter Aging and the Elderly – Introduction to Sociology – 2nd Canadian Edition

The economic impact of aging boomers is also an area of concern for many observers. Although the baby boom generation earned more than previous generations and enjoyed a higher standard of living, they also spent their money lavishly and did not adequately prepare for retirement. This will have a ripple effect on the economy as boomers work and spend less. The Canada and Quebec Pension Plans are government-run retirement programs funded primarily through payroll taxes. Poverty rates for elderly couples were reduced from Observers acknowledge that the systems are run very well, but their payments do not cover cost-of-living expenses, and in the absence of adequate retirement savings, the economic situation of retirees is threatened.

With the aging boomer cohort starting to receive pension benefits, and with fewer workers paying into the pension trust fund, it is estimated that by the fund will have to start drawing on its investment income in order to make payments Davidson, This percentage is expected to increase and will have a huge impact on the dependency ratio : the number of productive working citizens to non-productive young, disabled, elderly Bartram and Roe, The number of people above age 60 in China today is about million, which amounts to As health care improves and life expectancy increases across the world, elder care will be an emerging issue.

Wienclaw suggests that with fewer working-age citizens available to provide home care and long-term assisted care to the elderly, the costs of elder care will increase. Worldwide, the expectation governing the amount and type of elder care varies from culture to culture.

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For example, in Asia the responsibility for elder care lies firmly on the family Yap, Thang, and Traphagan, This is different from the approach in most Western countries, where the elderly are considered independent and are expected to tend to their own care. It is not uncommon for family members to intervene only if the elderly relative requires assistance, often due to poor health. Even then, caring for the elderly is considered voluntary. In North America, decisions to care for an elderly relative are often conditionally based on the promise of future returns, such as inheritance or, in some cases, the amount of support the elderly provided to the caregiver in the past Hashimoto, These differences are based on cultural attitudes toward aging.

Cultural attitudes in Japan prior to approximately supported the idea that the elderly deserve assistance Ogawa and Retherford, However, seismic shifts in major social institutions like family and economy have created an increased demand for community and government care. For example, the increase in women working outside the home has made it more difficult to provide in-home care to aging parents, leading to an increase in the need for government-supported institutions Raikhola and Kuroki, In North America, by contrast, many people view caring for the elderly as a burden.

Chinese Canadians, for example, are thought to have a higher sense of filial responsibility and to perceive providing family assistance for the elderly as a more normal aspect of life than Caucasian Canadians Funk, Chappell, and Liu, It is important to note that even within a country, not all demographic groups treat aging the same way. While most Americans are reluctant to place their elderly members into out-of-home assisted care, demographically speaking, the groups least likely to do so are Latinos, African Americans, and Asians Bookman and Kimbrel, Globally, Canada and other wealthy nations are fairly well equipped to handle the demands of an exponentially increasing elderly population.