The elderly and the non-elderly alike tend to see the older years as a time
of troubles and problems. This view is not based on the elderly's actual experience with problems; nor is it based on social structural variables like income, race, and so on. The image of the aged is drawn from an as yet mysterious
source of perceptions, perceptions which have the ability to motivate and
generate action of a policy sort. These perceptions of the conditions of the
elderly are, doubtless, a key factor in stimulating a pro-elderly federal social
policy, but the shadow and gloom of negativity may be an important source
of hatred of the life cycle poor.
I do not mean to suggest that seniors do not have problems. They do, something especially true of the older old and elderly of color. However, the perception of problems is, it appears, higher then their presence, even among those with
personal experience. Perception becomes a kind of reality of its own.
Support for the research in this chapter was provided, in part, by Grant #90-A-
1325 of the Administration on Aging, for which appreciation is gratefully acknowledged. Special thanks go to Betty Sears for providing the data analysis.
Calculated by taking the number of books divided by the number of persons in
the population, Table Series R-165-168/Table A1-3, pp. 499 and 7 respectively, The
Statistical History of the United States from Colonial Times to the Present ( New York: Horizon Press, 1965).
The ideas of freedom and equality, reinforced in the Civil War, are given high
David Fischer ( 1978), who sees disesteem beginning even earlier than Achenbaum.
This problem is not an uncommon one to radical organizers in any field. There
needs to be the development of consciousness raising, of revolutionary consciousness, or
some terms like that which point to a radical rethinking of the position the person
occupies, and an important reevaluation of the evidence of his conditions which he
typically considers. This change has occurred, if the Better Homes and Gardens data
Greer 1978) are to be believed, in the area of women's rights and men's duties (see
Chapter 7). There, people report sharply changed perceptions of what is proper for
men to do and report as well that these changed perceptions have changed their lives.