Psychological Development Across the Lifespan

Later Adulthood (60 and Older)

How does the role of older adults vary across cultures and historical time periods?

In many traditional cultures, the elderly are highly esteemed members of the community. Their advice is sought in many matters and valued for its wisdom. People live in large, extended families and grandparents often contribute to the care of grandchildren. When people grow too old to take care of themselves, younger family members (mostly women) provide care. In most modern, industrialized societies, however, there has been a dramatic change in the structure of the family. To a large extent, the nuclear family has replaced the extended family. People are more mobile, move residences more often, and adult children can live hundreds if not thousands of miles away from their parents. Further, working women do not have the time to provide full-time care for aging parents.

Thus, the place of the elderly in society has undergone great disruption. Two movements have emerged in response to these changes. For one, there has been growth of government-sponsored elder care services, including nursing homes, adult homes, home health aides, and adult day care centers. Secondly, there has been an extension of activities previously associated with earlier periods of life, such as travel, sports, continuing education, and paid or unpaid work, far into late life. Seniors today are likely to be more active—physically, economically, and socially—than their parents were.


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