Social Structure and Aging: Psychological Processes

Social Structure and Aging: Psychological Processes

Social Structure and Aging: Psychological Processes

Social Structure and Aging: Psychological Processes


This volume presents a systematic examination of the impact of social structures on individual behaviors and on their development in adulthood and old age. These papers and responses attempt to improve the reciprocal relationship between changes in social macro- and micro-structures and the process of psychological development in relation to issues of human aging. Using and combining concepts and data from various fields, this research promotes a better understanding of the effects of demographic patterns and social structures on the psychological development of adults.


Matilda White Riley National Institute on Aging

A law enacted by Congress in mid-October 1986 symbolizes the changes of concern to us in this book. Congress voted that employers can no longer require workers to retire when they reach age 70 (with certain exceptions such as police officers and college professors). As Senator Heinz put it, this act does not end discrimination, but it does "guarantee freedom of choice, and sends strong messages to older workers that we do value their contributions" (New York Times, October 18,1986). In itself, of course, the act will affect only small numbers of people. But it may well portend a reversal of the century-long decline in labor force participation of men over 65.

Today we can look upon the act as a change in social structure made possible by psychological changes in attitudes of members of more recent cohorts. These changes precipitate ways in which some people will now spend their later years. The act illustrates the dialectical relationship implicit in the topic before us: social structure and the phychological aging processes.

On behalf of all participants in the conference on social structure and aging, from which this book results, I want to express appreciation to Pennsylania State University and to Warner Schaie in collaboration with Carmi Schooler for giving us the opportunity to discuss this topic. This book is the first in a series that will be adapted from conferences on biological as well as social and psychological aging. The conference grew out of several planning meetings of the Social Science Research Council. Those meetings were built on some 10 years of work done by the Council's Committee on Life-Course Perspectives (of which I was chairman and in which . . .

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