Aging in Society: Selected Reviews of Recent Research

By Matilda White Riley; Beth B. Hess et al. | Go to book overview

2
A Sense of History: Recent Research on Aging and the Family1

Andrew Cherline Johns Hopkins University

Prior to 1960, most students of the contemporary family paid little attention to history, and most historians paid little attention to the family. The dominant sociological perspective on the family -- the structural-functionalism of Talcott Parsons -- was an attempt to construct a general model of family structure that would be valid in diverse historical situations. Historians, conversely, were much less concerned with the family life of ordinary people than with studying political and economic events. But in the 1960's, these orientations began to change as historians discovered the family and family sociologists discovered history. In the 1970's, the interests of historians converged with the interests of other social scientists to produce an important new body of research on family life ( Elder, 1980). What has happened to the study of the family in general has also happened to the study of aging and the family in particular: A new, historically oriented body of research has emerged in recent years. Some of this scholarship is the work of historians who have provided comparative information on the family life of the elderly in past time. The rest has been produced by sociologists, psychologists, and demographers, who have shown a heightened awareness of the importance of an individual's life history and of changing historical conditions affecting family relations in later life.

This essay summarizes these recent developments in the study of aging and the family and discusses their implications for the family relations of the men and women who will be entering old age in the near future. I will try to be wideranging in my discussion, but it is impossible to consider all aspects of a topic in

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1
In addition to Vern Bengtson, the author is grateful to Margaret Bright, Doris Entwisle, and Judith Treas for their critical reading of an earlier version of this paper.

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