Over thirty years ago Simone de Beauvoir observed in The Coming of Age how "Not only are there many more aged people than there were, but they no longer spontaneously integrate with the community: society is compelled to decide upon their status, and the decision can only be taken at government level. Old age has become the object of a policy" (1972:222)
When you think about it, there are a number of parallels between the
social statuses of the old and African Americans in American society, between
ageism and racism:
Historically, the social opportunities of both have largely been granted rather than earned
Both groups have been and continue to be stigmatized for unchangeable attributes, perceived as having lesser ability than those in the mainstream
Both have a history of being discriminated against in workplace, where they serve as a balance between the supply and demand for labor
So marginal had been their citizenship claims that Congress had to pass legislation recognizing rights: the Civil Rights and Older Americans Acts
Viewed as a political minority
AARP vs. NAACP: age-consciousness and race-consciousness: black panthers/gray panthers
A few summers ago the severity of a Chicago heat wave was gauged in terms of the number of elderly people who succumbed to heat-related maladies. Similarly, victimization of the old can be understood as a measure of social rot.
Two-thirds of the improvement of our species' lifespan has occurred since 1900, and it seems that this new temporality of our biological selves is out of synch with the traditional temporalities of social structure.
As our society has become increasingly age-stratified, we are generally tracked through time with our age mates. In some ways, the social order has come to resemble an onion, each layer of which is a different age group. Slippage in social solidarities is inevitable, particularly between the young and the old. As the Bruderhof Generation Connection observes, "There are few places today where people of different ages interact. With the demise of the extended family, the segregation between generations has only gotten worse. As a result, younger generations are not receiving the direction and advice they need from their elders. Priceless heritage, stories and wisdom are not being passed on. History, if forgotten, repeats itself."
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