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  • Author or Editor: Gemma M. Carney x
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This article comments on the English Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing, a voluntary sector-led initiative aimed at making proposals for voluntary sector leaders and charitable organisations on how to approach the ageing population. By examining the work of the commission, the review contributes to debates on the implications of population ageing for the voluntary sector.

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This chapter examines some of the implications of demographic ageing for social citizenship. Prolonged life expectancy changes the timing and sequencing of life courses: childhood is extended, retirement can last for upwards of thirty years, and the number of people in work looks set to be overtaken by numbers outside the labour market within the next generational cycle. What are the implications of demographic change for the model of collective provision of welfare? Will resources be re-distributed between age groups? Will the social contract be re-negotiated? The chapter concludes that in order to transition to an older population a dynamic, temporal understanding of the impact of ageing on citizenship across the life course must be developed.

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Over the last 20 years, increased public and political awareness has developed alongside research, policy and professional developments to advance our understanding of the abuse of older people in families, communities, hospitals and institutional settings. In 2002, the World Health Organization (WHO) argued that elder abuse was a distinct social problem, defining abuse as ‘a single, repeated act or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which caused harm or distress to an older person’ (WHO, 2002). In 2007, the first United Kingdom (UK) prevalence study of elder abuse reported that 4% of older people living in the community were subject to abuse or neglect (O’Keefe et al, 2007). In 2010, a prevalence study of elder abuse in Germany, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Portugal, Spain and Sweden found that 19.4% of older people aged 60–84 years were exposed to psychological abuse; 2.7% to physical abuse; 0.7% to sexual abuse; and 3.8% to financial abuse (Soares et al, 2010).

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This myth-busting and question-focused textbook tackles the fascinating and important social and policy issues posed by the challenges and opportunities of ageing.

The unique pedagogical approach recognises the gap between the lives of students and older people, and equips students with the conceptual, analytical and critical tools to understand what it means to grow old and what it means to live in an ageing society.

Features include:

• Myth-busting boxes incorporated into each chapter that unpack the common assumptions and stereotypes about ageing and older people in a clear and striking way;

• A multidisciplinary and issue-focused approach, interspersed with lively examples and vignettes bringing the debates to life;

• Group and self-study activities;

• A comprehensive glossary of key terms.

Answering questions which have arisen over years of longitudinal and systematic research on the social implications of ageing, this lively and engaging textbook provides an essential foundation for students in gerontology, sociology, social policy and related fields.

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Many people are afraid of aging … much of the negative attitude is generated by a set of myths about individual and population aging that are not backed and often squarely contradicted by evidence. (Axel Börsch-Supan, 2013: 3)

If you are reading this book, chances are that you have signed up for a course in ageing studies or social gerontology, which is a sub-set of gerontology – the study of human ageing. Or, perhaps, you are working with older people and would like to know more about social policy issues related to ageing. You may even be one of those people who picked up this book because you are curious. Regardless, you are sure to have some questions about ageing and older people. In our experience of teaching people about ageing, we have identified a number of questions to which students want to know the answers, but are too afraid to ask. These questions range from ‘What counts as old age anyway?’ to ‘Will I have enough money to retire, and when?’. You probably have more questions of your own that relate to your personal experience, members of your family or what you have observed from news or public debate.

Whatever your question, we can assure you of two things: you are probably not alone in asking it, and the answer will be much more interesting than you expect. We have been so inspired by the questions that students have put to us over the years that we decided to use their curiosity to shape our whole book.

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… in given historical circumstances, superior powers create systems of inequality and inferiority that bleed into individual lives. The ‘woman problem’ turned out to be sexism, not the supposed nature of women. The ‘Jewish problem’ was and is anti-Semitism, not Jews. The ‘Negro problem’ is still squarely racism. Now the whole world is said to be facing the ‘Graying Nation’ problem: too many old people, sickly, unproductive, costly, selfish … (Gullette, 2017: xviii)

‘Cultural gerontology’ is the term used to describe the growing interest in using arts and humanities approaches, methods and theories to understand ageing societies. This change, often referred to as ‘the cultural turn’ is very much the defining approach for early 21st century studies of ageing. While arts, humanities and other disciplines are making seismic and permanent impacts on how we view, discuss and understand human ageing, it is not possible to cover everything that is developing in a constantly changing area of research and study. Instead, we have reviewed a wide range of relevant literature, put it with our own experience and knowledge of ageing and tried to sketch a landscape of the field. First, we show how cultural gerontology offers a critique of political economy approaches (especially structured dependency). Second, we use narrative, an important analytical approach of humanities scholars, to show how the cultural turn has introduced scholars and students of ageing to new theory and methods. In practice, cultural gerontology scholars use narrative as a key method in offering robust critiques of biomedical approaches to understanding ageing, in particular the ‘decline narrative’, a point well made by Gullette at the opening of the chapter (and in Gullette, 1997; 2007; 2013; 2017).

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You stole our future from us! (Placard displayed by two young women at a rally following UK vote to Leave the European Union on 23 June 2016)

In this chapter we will argue that research on ageing has failed to adequately take account of the role of political institutions and decision making in precipitating and responding to demographic change. In comparison with other areas of research such as care for older people or dementia, the political implications of demographic ageing have been under-researched. In this chapter we make the case that politics matters (Stoker, 2006) when investigating our ageing population. There are two ways to look at the politics of ageing. On the one hand, there is the issue of political participation – who votes and whether this is affected by age. On the other hand, there is the macro-level question as to how political decision making might affect population ageing, an important aspect of political demography. We will devote equal attention to each side of the debate, aiming to increase your understanding of both. We will draw on the work of demographers such as Weiner and Teitelbaum (2001) who argue that political demography (the study of population as it relates to government and politics) is an urgent challenge for scholars of population ageing. Given that the outcome of democratic elections is heavily influenced by population change, we will ask whether an ageing population is likely to lead to a ‘gerontocracy’ (rule by the aged). Examples from 2016 electoral events in the UK and the US will be used to illustrate this argument.

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We owe all children a Planet Earth as wonderful as the one we have enjoyed. (Norwegian Grandparents Climate Change Campaign, nd)

In this chapter we tackle a complex but important topic in the study of ageing societies: solidarity between generations. ‘Solidarity between generations’ is the idea that people born in different periods and into separate birth cohorts support one another in order for the whole of society to thrive. This solidarity is a central fulcrum on which much of our social cooperation hinges. Everything from the financing of pensions and childcare, to caring for children and older people is dependent on people who occupy different life stages helping and supporting one another. This solidarity operates within families and at societal level. Within families, parents who are raising children are practising solidarity between generations. At societal levels, people who are currently working to support the education, health and welfare of the very young and the very old are practising solidarity between generations too.

Despite the significance of this form of social cooperation, solidarity between generations is not without its problems. In this chapter, we will take you through each of these debates, providing a critical analysis of how they affect the core principle of solidarity between generations. There are major scholarly debates around what constitutes a generation. Likewise, solidarity is not a concept we can take for granted. Social and political life in the 21st century seems destined to erode forms of solidarity and we examine how the ‘individualisation of the social’ is impacting on intergenerational solidarity (Beck, 1992).

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In this final chapter we would like to spend some time pulling together all of the arguments we have made, the evidence we have presented and the authors we have cited. We want Critical Questions for Ageing Societies to be a book that you come back to again and again in the course of your continuing studies in gerontology. For this reason, we have decided to revisit each chapter, drawing out key concepts and ideas for you to take forward in your future studies and research. Next, we would like to pull together the chapters into thematic subcategories which you can use to understand ageing. For each subcategory we will suggest some possible next steps for your work in these areas, perhaps through researching and writing an undergraduate or postgraduate dissertation. In this closing chapter, we will finish with a discussion of how your view on ageing societies is influenced not only by facts and figures, but by the kind of language and approach that you use to understand, explore and – ultimately – explain the ageing world.

Now that you have finished this book, you will have acquired a wide range of facts and information about ageing and older people. Hopefully, the theoretical and conceptual frameworks that we have provided in each chapter mean that you can now process this information in a way which allows it to become knowledge. For instance, in Chapter 1 we showed you how to read, interpret, describe and construct a population pyramid. Population pyramids are visual representations of a given population and so they allow you to summarise what stage of the demographic transition any given society is at, the numbers of old people relative to children, the dependency ratio and gender balance.

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Women have another option. They can aspire to be wise, not merely nice; to be competent, not merely helpful; to be strong, not merely graceful… They can let themselves age naturally and without embarrassment, actively protesting and disobeying the conventions that stem from this society’s double standard about aging. (Sontag, 1972: 38)

In her many witty, insightful essays on life as an American woman, the late Nora Ephron offers some of the most quotable lines about each stage of the lifecourse. Her book Heartburn (1983) is a classic treatise on how women survive divorce. Her most famous film, When Harry Met Sally (1989) has become a 20th-century classic on heterosexual relationships. She sadly died at the age of 71 in 2012. In the final years of her life she published a number of humorous essays on being an older woman in America. Her words cut to the core of how gender and age intersect through the changing shape of the female body: ‘Anything you think is wrong with your body at the age of thirty-five you will be nostalgic for at the age of forty-five’ (Ephron, 2008: 1268).

We use the words of two second wave feminists, Sontag and Ephron, to open this chapter on gender as it is structured around critical questions asked by feminists who are interested in, or affected by, old age. Once we have laid out some differences in how men and women age, we use the concept of ‘intersectionality’ to look at reported experiences of ageing by men and women, critically examining how femininity and masculinity might interact with ageism and age-based social norms.

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