Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Older Men's Social Participation: The Importance of Masculinity Ideology

Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Older Men's Social Participation: The Importance of Masculinity Ideology

Article excerpt

Active engagement in society is a key component of successful aging (Rowe & Kahn, 1998). In fact, the salubrious effects of social participation have been continually documented (e.g., Berkman, 1995; Unger, Johnson, & Marks, 1997) since Durkheim's 19th century study of suicide. Given the importance of social participation and being actively engaged in one's social world, it is vital to understand this aspect of older men's lives.

A convincing literature already indicates that throughout the life course men's social lives are gendered and inevitably change because of their life transitions (e.g., becoming a husband, leaving the work force, friends moving away, experiencing the death of a life partner) and physical and mental capabilities. The number of relations older men maintain with friends and neighbors, their intensity of social participation, the homogeneity and density of network ties, the extent of expressive participation and engagement in community organizations that benefit the individual, and even the amount of leisure-time physical activity all decrease as chronological age increases, yet older men's involvement in their social networks may exceed what women their age maintain (Adams, 1994; Antonucci, 1990; Booth, 1972; Lefrancois, Leclerc, & Poulin, 1998; McPherson, Smith-Lovin, & Cook, 2001). Other evidence suggests that older men's networks of relationships remain helpful in maintaining identity, even when researchers find the networks smaller and less dense than women's or yielding less emotional support (Burda, Vaux, & Schill, 1984; Fischer & Oliker, 1983; Krause & Keith, 1989; Young & Glasgow, 1998). The known is that gender and age orchestrate social network structures and function throughout the life course and thus the gains and costs of social participation.

But there remain substantive gaps in the literature. There has been no study on how masculinities organize older men's social networks or how the gender ideology men embrace affects their social participation. There are occasional comments about the relationship between masculinities and social networks in writers' post hoc efforts to interpret the properties of men's social relationships (Wellman & Wortley, 1990) or the trajectories of widowers' social involvement (Stevens, 1995). The present study systematically examines whether older men's social participation and the satisfaction they derive from their social participation is influenced by their endorsement of a traditional masculinity ideology.


It is a basic proposition of the social constructionist perspective on masculinity that there are different kinds of masculinities within society. It is also understood that lived masculinities are negotiated performances that maintain the gender scripts that are "out there" in the culture, in institutions, and in relationships and reveal relations of dominance and subordination (Connell, 1995; West & Zimmerman, 1987). The culturally idealized form of masculinity, hegemonic masculinity, may not be the lived form of masculinity at all, but it remains a powerful, perhaps the dominant, script against which self and others are evaluated across the life course. These points have now been clearly disclosed in theory (Morgan, 1992) and recently in the popular press (e.g., Faludi, 1999).

Recognition of age-related masculinities and conversations about men whose habits, behaviors, and attitudes characterize growing up in particular birth cohorts of generations are not uncommon. The differential masculinity expectations for boys and adult men have been systematically addressed (e.g., Connell, 2000; Kimmel, 1996). However, research addressing later life masculinities began in the 1990s and is in its infancy (Kosberg & Kaye, 1997; Thompson, 1994). Neither the general norms scripting later life masculinity nor the behavioral norms older men institute have been charted. …

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