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Aging is a normal human process, which is a time-related change. The changes start from birth and continue through adulthood to death. The changes related to time include how a person functions and feels concerning both mental and physical well-being. It is vital for individuals to understand the concept of aging to prevent the oppression of people in society in their late adulthood. In this regard, this paper will focus on late adulthood and oppression. The paper will specifically focus on discussing late adulthood and oppression as a social phenomenon and apply theory to make sense of this phenomenon.
Description of Phenomenon
In general terms, late adulthood is considered to be the golden years of the life of a person. Despite being considered a golden age, it is not always a positive experience (Zahodne, Manly, Smith, Seeman, & Lachman, 2017). The oppression of individuals in late adulthood stage by people in the society dates back to the historical times. Oppression of people in late adulthood stage refers to mistreatment or abuse of people over the age of 65. It is argued that since the 20th century, people in late adulthood around the world have experienced many social issues and changes (Zahodne et al., 2017). Before the 20th-century oppression of the individuals over the age of 65 was considered a private matter and was hidden from the view of the public. The current century is experiencing rapid growth of the population, especially individuals over the age of 60. As many people reach this stage of life, they are faced with new social problems.
It was the United States Congress that first addressed this problem, then followed by practitioners and researchers. The population of people in the late adulthood stage was expected to be more than 11% of the total population. Atkinson (1980), on the other hand, predicted that the population of people over the age of 60 years would be more than double, from 542 million to 1.2 billion people. Over 80% of this population will be in the developing world. More than 1 million individuals are entering the late adulthood life stage. Oppression of individuals in the late adulthood stage has become part and parcel of humankind in the 21st century. The oppression is mainly in terms of physical abuse, psychological abuse, financial exploitation, and much more. In the United States alone, it is estimated that 2.1 million individuals in the late adulthood stage have been oppressed in one way or another (World Health Organization, 2015). The population of women in late adulthood is more compared to men across the globe.
The late adulthood life stage is different than other life stages because of both physical and emotional reasons (Gutman and Spencer, 2010). For instance, different from other life stages, the physical condition of people in late adulthood stage substantially depends on their mental health status. In most cases, young adults consider individuals in the late adulthood stage as less valuable due to the alteration of their independence and self-reliance. This is contributed by the fact that individuals at this stage are more likely to experience health complications and are easily attacked by chronic diseases because the health system is weak. Also, individuals in the late adulthood stage are faced with stereotyping frequently. It is common to hear young adults in society, spreading negative information, and tainting the image of old people (Brownell, 2010). The old people are labeled with negative statements such as forgetfulness, being wrinkled, inattentive, and a burden to society. Some old people, on the other hand, are also perceived positively due to their life experiences (Brownell, 2010).
Women are more likely to be at the risk of experiencing oppression compared to men at late adulthood life stage because of various reasons. Firstly, women are much exposed to the risk factor of poverty than men. The population of men in the working class is more compared to women. Therefore, when they retire due to old age, they are provided with pension income to support their needs. Despite the population of women being more compared to that of men, they are fewer in the working class. Therefore, most of them lack pension income in the old age. Even for those who were working, there is a substantial gender gap in terms of remuneration and benefits. Therefore, their pension income after retirement is lower than that of men.
The social environment contributes to this phenomenon in various ways. One of the ways that lead to oppression of individuals in the late adulthood stage is conflict. The young and the old people are in constant competition of the available resources (Gutman and Spencer, 2010), which are usually limited. For instance, despite being considered to be fragile, the old people are required to compete with young people for health care. As the resources become less, the conflict hits up, throwing society into turmoil. Conflict is a social problem that is inevitable in society, and it naturally leads to social struggle. The young and old people struggle for privileges and power. The young generation thinks they deserve privileges because they have not experienced them. Individuals in their late adulthood stage, on the other hand, think that they deserve the privileges because they are the ones who fought for the resources.
Description and Application of Theory
Based on the discussion above, the connection between late adulthood and oppression can be explained using various theoretical perspectives. This paper will focus specifically on conflict theory. Conflict theory is a unique theoretical perspective in sociological thinking. Conflict theory was developed in the 1950s by various sociological theorists, including Lewis Coser and Ralf Dahrend (Dahrendorf, 1958). Conflict theory addresses multiple issues in society, including coercion, power struggles, interests, and conflict. According to conflict theory, structural power division and resource inequality are exhibited in the society leading to conflict of interest. However, the emergence of conflict due to these issues in society is a rare phenomenon. This is attributed to the fact that society is socially organized and has a stable structure that promote coercion.
People working with conflict theory use it to understand late adulthood and oppression in different ways. Conflict theorists view society as inherently unstable, whereby individuals are in constant struggles for power and resources (Little, Vyain, Scaranuzzo, Cody-Rydzewski, Griffiths, Strayer, & Keirns 2012). The guiding principles of conflict theory state that, different social groups in the society compete for both scarce resource and powers. Concerning the late adulthood stage of life, the principle means that older people struggle with other groups. For instance, the young generation would like to retain a share of resources from the old generation to a point where it becomes a conflict. It is normal to hear the young generation argue that individuals in the late adulthood stage get more than their fair share of the available resources. In the current severe economic condition, there is great concern about the huge cost used by the government on social security and Medicare for old people. For instance, in the United States, more than $700 million is paid by the federal government in Social Security payments (World Health Organization, 2015). Additionally, the medical bill for the elderly is continuously rising since 2008. This leads to conflict with the younger generation. As a result, since the people in late adulthood are considered to be fragile, they end up being oppressed because they find it difficult to stand up for their rights.
The late adulthood life stage and oppression can be explained using conflict theory in three different perspectives. Firstly, the modernization perspective; the research conducted by Cowgill and Holmes (1972) concluded that the primary reason why old people lose their power and influence in society is because of industrialization and technological advancement leading to modernization. As society becomes modernized, individuals in the late adulthood stage of life find it difficult to cope with the changes. As a result, they are more likely to experience social exclusion, which is a form of discrimination. Traditionally, the social norm was that the young generation was required to take care of the old generation. But nowadays, with the rapid growth of urbanization and modernization, society is becoming more individualistic than before. As a result, the extended family is being replaced by the nuclear family. As people enter the late adulthood stage, most of them are grandparents and are grouped under the extended family. In an individualistic society, taking care of the extended family, especially the elderly, is seen as a voluntary responsibility. As a result, most individuals in late adulthood stage end up being ignored or neglected. The reasoning behind the modernization perspective of the conflict theory is that as society modernizes, the elderly are unable to work and contribute less to economic development, and hence, they are considered a burden.
The other perspective in the conflict theory is the aspect of stratification. According to Riley, Johnson, and Foner (1972), the members of the society are first stratified based on age. Because of the stratification of members of society, individuals are likely to retire when they reach a certain age. Therefore, most of the people in the late adulthood stage of life are retired because of their age. Despite the United State government establishing the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which prohibited the forceful retirement of workers in the United States when they reach a certain age, old people are forced to retire because of other issues such as health. After they have retired, old people are expected to receive support from either the government of their family. But as mentioned earlier, the society is highly individualistic. Thus, older adults end up being ignored.
Lastly, the exchange perspective can be used to explain the connection between late adulthood and oppression. According to this approach, as individuals get older, they increasingly become dependents. In most cases, relationships are built through social exchange. But because of their age, people in the late adulthood stage become less able to exchange resources. As a result, it is likely to see their social circle diminish. Based on this description, it is evident that according to conflict theorist, oppression associated with late adulthood stage comes in different forms. First, individuals in the late adulthood stage are oppressed by power, and secondly, they are oppressed by the current social and moral values. It is inevitable for the elderly to come into contact with social struggles. For instance, in the United States, the elderly are forced to engage in political lobbies to ensure that the government can support them.
Conflict theory helps people to intervene and support those experiencing oppression in the late adulthood stage in different ways. Firstly, conflict theory helps people in understanding that they are Various institutions in society. These institutions have a collective responsibility to fulfill. People in the late adulthood stage experience oppression because the institutions in modern society do not put into consideration the needs of older people, especially those who are weak because of their health status. As a result, these individuals are likely to experience stigmatization as they are not in the position to adopt the new changes as a result of modernization. Therefore, conflict theory allows us to review some of the social problems encountered by individuals in the late adulthood stage, making it easier to come up with an effective solution plan. Conflict theory also helps us to understand that different life stages are faced with different challenges.
In most cases, people in the late adulthood stage are prone to many health issues. Some of the health issues associated with old age include cardiac disturbance and poor metabolism. Also, as we get old, the functioning of the body is likely to change because of changes in lifestyle and other social contacts. Due to these health issues, individuals in this stage are expected to spend a lot of money to finance their medication. Therefore, it becomes logical for us to support the elderly in terms of both financial and emotional needs.
To sum up, the paper discussed the connection between late adulthood and oppression as a social phenomenon and applied a conflict theory to make sense of this phenomenon. It has been identified in the paper that the oppression of individuals in the late adulthood stage by people in society dates back to the 20th century. Oppression of people in late adulthood stage has been explained as mistreatment or abuse of people over the age of 60. Despite the oppression of people in this life stage was initially hidden from the public view, it has become part and parcel of humanity in the 21st century. The oppression is mainly in terms of physical abuse, psychological abuse, and financial exploitation. Women are more likely to be at the risk of experiencing oppression compared to men at late adulthood life stage because of reasons such as poverty and gender discrimination. Conflict theory is a unique theoretical perspective on sociological thinking that is used to explain the connection between late adulthood and oppression. Based on conflict theory, the oppression associated with late adulthood stage comes in different forms, including power and moral values. Conflict theory helps us intervene and support those experiencing oppression in the late adulthood stage by helping us understand how different institutions in the society should put into consideration the needs of the elderly, particularly during resource allocation.
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