Aging and Older Men: Thoughts, Reflections and Issues: Introduction

Article excerpt

Efforts across many fields engaged in addressing the population of aging in this country have tended to create a nearly homogenous cohort that often does not recognize the heterogeneity of aging across gender, race, ethnicity, geography, socioeconomic status, cultural and sexual orientation. The diversity within aging members of our society brings about many variations and unique issues that need to be recognized and explored by policy makers and practitioners. Among these is aging related to gender, which has tended to pay much less attention to men than women. Content analysis of journals and texts on aging has revealed a significant lack of content on men, in particular, aging and elderly men (Kosberg, 2002; Tobin, 1997). This lack of a significant knowledge base places policy formation and practitioners at a distinct disadvantage when developing policy, programs and services for aging men. This emphasis is not an attempt to replace the work being done on aging women but to augment that work with equal efforts focused on the issues of men and aging men. Kosberg (2002) notes that this "... responsibility emanates not from a 'power' perspective, but from concern for the overlooked needs of any particular group" (p. 37). Likewise, significant attention must be given to the heterogeneity and diversity of men's lives. Differential experiences are not only evident between men and women but exists as a consequence of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic, educational and historical factors that impact the experience of aging for men (Thompson, 1994; Gonyea, 1994). These differential contexts for aging men need to be studied, explored and entered into the literature.

This special issue is an effort to contribute to this needed content. It evolved through men and women meeting and sharing their interests in aging while acknowledging the dearth of material available on men and aging men. In particular, it was noted in discussion among the future authors in this collection that what material does exist about men tends to focus on them as perpetrators of violence, as secondary players in family issues, or as living privileged lives in contrast to women (Fleming, 1998; Kosberg, 2002; Thompson, 1994). This collection of articles provides additional knowledge to understanding aging men as complex and diverse and with particular issues and assets.

The first article by Jordan I. Kosberg examines the breadth of special issues and challenges facing older men, including men from diverse backgrounds. He provides a helpful overview of the physical and psychosocial challenges facing aging men and the nature of available resources. Importantly, the article addresses the issue of engaging men and reaching out to them that is in itself a significant issue for policy makers and practitioners. Understanding men's help-seeking behavior or tendency to not seek out help is a key element of any effort to engage men in services that can be helpful to them and their families. The article advocates for increased attention to the needs of older men and means by which formal services and programs might attempt to reach them.

Gary L. Villereal and Alonzo Cavazos examine the changes in machismo behaviors in Mexican/American men as they age. The authors note that, while the socially negative connotations of bravado and suppressed emotions are the hallmarks of machismo, machismo also encompasses a sense of protecting the honor and welfare of the family, having a strong work ethic, being a good provider, and living up to responsibilities (Galanti, 2003). Machismo is related to youth, according to the authors, and there is a significant shift away from machismo as men age. Older men are more willing to undertake household chores and grandchildcare responsibilities than their younger counterparts, and tend to view relationships with women on a more equal footing. The authors conclude by stating that more research is needed to study the power dynamics and roles of Mexican/American husbands as they age. …