AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
During the final decades of the twentieth century; the elderly have become an increasingly numerous and visible component of the population in many societies. The aged represent a large and expanding proportion of the world's developed societies and are increasing rapidly in many developing and more traditional societies of the globe (Brody, 1989; Kinsella and Suzman, 1992). Total numbers of elderly are much greater in developing nations; however, this increase in numbers of elderly is currently overshadowed by more rapid increases in youthful cohorts (Crews, 1985, 1990a). Both trends have followed massive and rapid reductions in mortality resulting from improved biomedical technologies and public health activities designed to reduce infectious diseases, improve nutrition, and provide safe, healthy environments for infants and children. These health and population trends are expected to continue through at least the twenty-first century (Manton and Tolley, 1991).
Such demographic realignments of age cohorts were originally hypothesized to include declines in the status of the elderly, generational competition over scarce resources, and myriad other social phenomena (see Cowgill, 1974; Cowgill and Holmes, 1972). The actual extent of these anticipated consequences has been difficult to document (see Eisdorfer, 1981), and the original "modernization theory of aging" has been greatly modified (Cowgill, 1974, 1986). Still, various aspects of these changes have likely produced data offering glimpses of future sociocultural developments that might be anticipated in some populations. Available demographic data allow reconstructions of population structures for some populations (Crews and Smith-Ozeran, 1992). Examination of previous and present sociocultural beliefs enables us to define present, and reconstruct earlier, attitudes toward aging and to estimate the aged life stage. Together, these data may allow quantitative conceptualization of being "aged" or "old" in various soderies. Such constructs may be examined to determine whether sociocultural definitions of "old age" have lagged behind biomedical changes leading to continued high physiological and mental function during the seventh, eighth, and even ninth decades of life in many societies. These constructs may allow us to answer questions like the following Have sociocultural definitions of old age changed in response to new patterns of health and longevity? What factors have been correlates of current attitudes toward the elderly in various populations?
Large cohort trends in survivorship and longevity have been revealed by research in medical and population demography of the U.S. population. Even survivors of chronic disease hospitalizations tend to be older during recent decades. People are living longer and are more healthy at later decades of life than previously (see Guralnik, 1991; Kaplan, 1991; Verbrugge, 1991). This trend has been more or less verified across populations (Crews, 1985, 1990b; Stout and Crawford, 1988; Vaupel, 1988; Manton, 1986; Fries, 1988; Olshansky et al., 1991; Wallace and Lemke, 1991).
Cultural definitions of old age developed during earlier periods were related to the prevailing patterns of declining physical and mental functioning. Among the aged, most observable functional capabilities and indicators of health have undergone considerable …