and Where We Might Go
Beth B. Hess County College of Morris
We enter the 1980's in the wake of several decades of research and activism on behalf of America's elderly. Over the past 20 years, an extensive list of major legislation has been enacted: Medicare, the Older American's Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the indexing of Social Security, to name a few of the most prominent. The growth of mass membership in local organizations that focus on the concerns of senior citizens has been phenomenal. Closely linked to these societal-level developments, but following a dynamic process of its own, academic interest in aging and old age has also increased substantially during this period. This book is in many ways a tribute to the breadth and depth of inquiry into old age and aging now being carried out in hundreds of universities, colleges, centers, and institutes. We are today on the threshold of important accomplishments in the areas of research and theory building, as exemplified in this set of papers at the leading edge of this new scientific specialty.
A number of common themes emerge from these essentially independent papers. In most cases, the authors are as much concerned with demolishing erroneous stereotypes as with presenting new evidence. The overriding realization is that many outcomes commonly thought to be attributable to age are actually complex phenomena with multiple origins. The aging organism does not operate in a vacuum, but is engaged in a reciprocal interaction with a particular environment, and is itself the product of life-course experiences during a given slice of history. Physiological aging is only one of many factors that determine the condition and