In this paper, adulthood and aging are shown from different sides: first, the major values for the elderly such as relationships, spirituality and quality of life are discussed; second, the cultural views towards aging in the United States and Asia are given.
The cultural differences in views towards elderly in Asia are shown on example of Japan, as one of the most developed and civilized countries of Asia. The importance of the subject is emphasized by the overview of recent studies on various aspects of aging published in psychological journals. The aged population has been long in focus of different researches: psychological, social, economic et cetera.
The fact that aging population has been steadily increasing is widely recognized and proved by statistic researches. Hence, the interest towards aging and its problems.
Aging takes different shapes in different countries. Therefore, many studies are particularly interested in aging in different regions of the world. Cross-cultural aspects of aging present interest for multinational societies, such as American society. This paper discusses many of these issues.
Adulthood and Aging
Later life is viewed as occurring from about age 70 to 75 years and upwards; further distinctions are sometimes made between the ‘young old’ and the ‘old-old’ i.e., adults in the age period of about 70–84 and adults aged about 85 years and over. Chronological age is an important social and personal marker of identity, behavior, expectations, experiences, and preferences.
Adults in their seventies, for example, often score lower than their younger counterparts on measures of negative affect including worry and anxiety (Gems, 2003); older adults can also score more highly than younger adults on measures of agreeableness and consciousness (Thane, 2003).
Similarly, adults in mid- and later life are more likely to be generative than their younger counterparts; in fact although younger people can be altruistic they cannot be generative as it is only with experience and time that this vital role of teaching, guiding and supporting others can occur.
Older adults are not necessarily a unique group of adults qualitatively different from other age groups; this is because many of the issues often associated with later life are issues pertinent at any age throughout the life-course, for example, the need to maintain a balance between autonomy and dependence, and the need for secure, warm and accepting relationships with others.
Furthermore, although old age is noted as a time for increasing losses and constraints on development, losses and challenges occur throughout the life-course and not just in later life. (Thane, 2003)
As social beings, most adults need to be in close relationships with other people, for enjoyment, for meaning and purpose in life, and also as a means of learning more about ourselves and the world within which we live. Warm and close relationships with other people have also been described as being a healthy necessity from ‘the cradle to the grave’ (Blundo R. & Deborah E. Bowen, 2005).
Relationships, are very important for our health and well-being particularly reciprocal relationships, which also serve a protective function such as relationships with a spouse or equivalent figure. In addition, it is often within close relationships that we offer and receive support, particularly at times when the risk of threat to the actual or representational self is higher, for example when taking on new projects or goals.
Relationships with close others can also be a significant source of pleasure, enjoyment, and meaning for adults.
Most older adults need and enjoy relationships with younger generations; so too do communities need relationships with older adults. This point is made strongly by Jackson J. (2002) who draws on ethnographic, cross-cultural, and anthropological data to argue that as a consequence of maturation and experience older adults have their own unique strengths and talents that can and should be used in the social context, and particularly in helping, supporting, and teaching the next generation.
Jackson takes this perspective, particularly in light of the ‘parental emergency’ (p. 825), in other words, the difficulties and problems involved in raising emotionally healthy children without the support of the extended family and friends.
In later life, however, relationships with other people can be lost, constrained or the quality of relationships impaired. In later life, for example, adult children may divorce and separate so that older people may lose generative links with younger family members. Similarly, into the latter half of the life cycle adults are more likely to experience the loss of parents, spouses, and/or the loss of other close attachment relationships through bereavements.
Also, personal work roles that the individual had and enjoyed may no longer be salient or relevant such as when children are grown up and leave home. Furthermore, given compulsory retirement, the friends and acquaintances that one had through the work role may have to be surrendered.
Although adults can experience significant losses and constraints in their relationships with others, these can be a consequence of the interactions and expectations of others, rather than being intrinsic to the aging process. Society may not always be supportive of the needs of its older members.
For example, society can impose constraints on relationships into later life in terms of expectations for relinquishing the work role or even about the aptness of certain sexual relationships.
This is particularly the case given the potential for ageism within which older adults can be disadvantaged with subsequent loss of health or even loss of life itself, for example, when older adults are denied health treatment or counseling because of the negative views health professionals can have of older people.
Evidence examining the ways in which older adults are viewed by society is mixed. Some researchers have found that many older people are viewed in very negative ways (Steuerle, 2001).
In contrast, other researchers have found that the results of studies on attitudes to older adults are influenced by the specific attributes being assessed. Dooley E. (2003) for example asked a group of undergraduates (aged 17–24) to rate their attitudes towards young, mid-life, and older adults across cognitive (intellectual abilities or information processing), personal-expressive (personality or interpersonal attributes), and physical attributes relating to physical health, behavior, or movement.
Results indicated that attitudes towards the physical attributes of older adults were more negative by comparison with young and mid-life adults. In contrast, no significant difference was found for personal-expressive attributes, but there was a main effect for age on cognitive attributes.
A post hoc test indicated that the attitudes of participants towards midlife adults were significantly more positive than were those for younger adults (mean −0.48) or for older adults (mean −.027). Although these insights are useful, this study was carried out using undergraduate students as participants, thus making generalisability difficult. Researchers in this field should attempt to replicate the above study with other participant groups.
Some social losses and threats that assume crises in mid- and later life (e.g., ‘empty nest syndrome’) have little empirical evidence to support them (Feldstein B. & Jeffrey B. Liebman, 2003). A contrasting view is that there are challenges associated with each age period around which adults must adapt. This contrasting view does not remove the reality of social stressors, but instead, recognizes that these occur throughout the life course, and not just old age.
Studies have shown that the quality of social networks of older people have many similarities to those of younger age groups, but that the number of contacts within the networks are fewer for the old. Socioemotional selectivity theory (Feldstein B. & Jeffrey B. Liebman, 2003) attempts to describe the functional declines in social contact throughout adulthood.
This theory describes the practical aspects of social interactions to include information acquisition, identity maintenance, and emotion regulation. The essential premise of the theory is that the relative important of those goals changes as a function of perceived time, and that these goals influence and explain declines in social contact across adulthood.
When time is perceived as being largely open-ended, future-orientated goals such an information acquisition are of paramount importance. However, when time is perceived as being limited, present-orientated goals such as emotional goals, are rated as being most important. Consequently, adults into later years are seen as actively preferring certain types of social contact (e.g., emotionally satisfying contact) over others such as information gathering.
There are substantial differences in adults’ preferences for social activities and social contacts, however, and some of these differences can be explained by gender, ethnicity, and physical health. It is well known that women typically have more social contact than do men, especially more intimate friends or confidants.
Confidants are typically women, in part given the difference in mean ages between the sexes. Age differences between the sexes in western countries is around five years, but in some countries the difference is larger, such as Finland, where the difference is eight years.
This means that older women often live alone, whereas older men are married. It also means that women are more likely to be caregivers by comparison with their male counterparts. Health is another significant factor explaining reductions in social activity in later years.
The patterns of not initiating new contacts with non-familial persons is clearly visible in nursing homes and other institutions. There can be a significant risk involved in contact seeking in old age; conversations can become difficult for example if others have sensory difficulties, particularly hearing loss.
To summarize, relationships in later years can be an intense source of both pleasure and distress. Relationships with others can be a significant source of enjoyment and meaning in life. Relationships with others are also crucial not only for the well-being of individuals but also of whole communities given that society is often dependent on the experience and expertise that older adults develop over many decades of life.
However, in later life as throughout life, the relationships and social roles that adults have with others can be compromised, constrained, or even lost. These losses can arise through bereavement or because society does not always provide its older members with adequate support and resources.
Understanding the ways adults evaluate and regulate changes in relationships is likely to be crucial if health professionals are to help facilitate better health and well-being for more people for longer into the latter part of the life cycle.
Future research in this area should be carried out to refine and clarify the nature of relationships across adulthood, and the impact that social motives and other factors might play in influencing the quality and nature of relationships. Future research is also needed to explore and examine the positive qualities within close family relationships, particularly between parents and their adult children, and siblings who have shared experiences over many decades of life.
Japan is much more densely populated than the United States but not much more so than Great Britain. Japan is clearly one of the most industrialized nations in the world with a higher proportion of its gross national product from manufacturing than the United States, Great Britain, or Denmark.
Its total gross national product is second only to the United States; its per capita income, however, is lower than the three comparison countries. It has a higher rate of natural increase and a lower percentage aged 65 and over than the comparison countries, but recent decreases in birth and death rates are expected to rapidly increase the percentage aged 65 and over. (Bernier, 2003)
The Japanese are relatively homogeneous racially and ethnically which may facilitate the integration of the aged. Some social-psychological traits relevant to this analysis are: strong national pride, concern with politeness and deference toward superiors, a dominant aesthetic sense, and a more casual attitude toward time.
Transportation is less of a problem for the aged in Japan because of the many neighborhood shops and the elaborate system of public transportation.
The tradition of respect for the aged has strong roots both in the vertical social system and in the unconditional duty of filial piety, which derives from the fundamental Japanese religion, ancestor worship.
Thus, the ecology and economic system of Japan are similar to that of western industrialized nations, but her social system and culture have distinctive elements that have helped maintain the relatively high status and integration of older Japanese.
The health status of Japanese elders has been improving with better nutrition, sanitation, and medical care so that they are now about as healthy as the aged in other modern countries.
The Japanese elders are much more integrated in their families as shown by their living arrangements and functions in the household. Furthermore, there has been little decline in proportions living with their children so that over two-thirds will probably continue to live with their children during the foreseeable future.
The employment status of the elders is much higher than in other industrialized countries: over half the older men continue to be employed. Most of those who stop work, do so for voluntary and health reasons rather than being forced to stop by compulsory retirement or other discrimination against the aged.
The trends indicate little decline in employment status. Those who are not employed do tend to have relatively low independent incomes, but pensions and retirement benefits are rapidly improving, and the system of family support usually assures at least the minimum necessities of life. (Katsumata, 2001)
The main explanation for their relatively high status and integration is the tradition of respect for elders that has its roots in the vertical society and in religious doctrines of filial piety.
Respect and affection for the elders are shown on a daily basis by honorific language; bowing; priority for the elders in seating, serving, bathing, and going through doors. It is also reflected in popular sayings, special celebrations of the sixty-first birthday, the national observance of Respect for Elders Day, and the National Law for Welfare of the Aged.
We therefore conclude that the theory of marked decline in the status of the aged as a necessary result of industrialization is false. On the contrary, Japan shows that a tradition of respect for the aged can maintain their relatively high status and integration despite industrialization.
In Western countries, including the USA, the attitude towards elderly is far less respectful and the connection with younger generations is often lost. However, high income, pensions and a highly developed social care system help American elderly to live their later life with comfort. Japanese elderly often depend on their younger generation in economic terms. The conclusion we make is that both financial matters and social relationship factors are important for aging people.
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