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Challenges of Aging: Retirement, Ageism & Social Isolation

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  • 0:05 Challenges of Aging
  • 0:45 Retirement
  • 1:48 Ageism
  • 2:49 Social Isolation
  • 4:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erin Long-Crowell
There are many challenges that we face as we age. In this lesson, we discuss three of the larger challenges that have been identified by sociologists: retirement, ageism, and social isolation.

Challenges of Aging

For many of us, it can be unpleasant to grow older. Our society and culture value youth, and being old is sometimes treated like a disease that has no cure. Of course, it's a reality that all of us have to face at some point, so aging is a huge topic of study for sociologists. Among other things, they observe patterns of social activity and identify the challenges we all face as we age. Three of the larger challenges that have been identified are retirement, ageism and social isolation.

Retirement

Retirement may seem like something to strive for - a goal - not a challenge to face. It's nice to imagine not having to go to work every day, traveling and living a life of leisure. However, retirement like this doesn't happen too often anymore. In our current economy, more and more individuals have no choice but to work well past the age of 65. The harsh reality is that most of those who cannot work - and even some of those who can - live in or close to poverty.

Money aside, another part of the challenge of retirement is adjusting to retired life. Work provides us not only with income but also with social interaction and a sense of purpose. So, our job is often an important part of our identity. When it ends, it's common to struggle with the loss of that identity.

Ageism

Another challenge of aging that may seem more obvious than retirement is ageism. Although it can target any age group, ageism generally refers to prejudice and/or discrimination against older people. Ageism can be blatant or subtle. For example, it involves anything from refusing to hire an elderly worker to assuming an older woman needs help crossing the road.

The elderly are often given a negative stereotype: slow, confused, helpless, resistant to change, and/or generally unhappy. Like racism and sexism, discrimination can happen when unfair generalizations like this are made. Although the stereotype is not true of every older individual, age-related bias, unfortunately, exists in practically every setting.

Social Isolation

The final challenge of aging we'll discuss in this lesson is that of social isolation. Being alone can be extremely unpleasant at any age. It's something that many people fear about growing old because, unfortunately, social isolation is common amongst the elderly.

The two challenges we've already discussed can actually have a big impact on this third challenge. Retirement closes off a major source of socialization, and ageism may result in younger individuals not wanting to socialize with older people. But the greatest cause of social isolation of elderly people is the death of a significant other. Heterosexual women, in particular, tend to experience this loss more often because they typically outlive their husbands.

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