Cultural beliefs shape social norms and values surrounding the aging process and the role of older people. These beliefs about aging are not static—they shift and change as society evolves. We then explore positive and negative aging myths that perpetuate ageism and their impact on older adults.
Some groups revere and respect their oldest members, while others see them as senile and incompetent, making them the butt of jokes. In some societies, children care for their parents at home, while in other cultures, children put their parents in homes where others care for them.
Many believe it is our culture’s negative depiction of aging. In many other cultures, however, old age is revered. The elderly are highly valued, and the process of aging is embraced. Below are some examples of how cultural attitudes toward aging in non-US countries affect the life experiences of their inhabitants.
According to social representations theory (Moscovici, 1984, 1988) the views of aging held within a given culture are a form of shared cultural representation. They constitute systems of ideas, values, and customs related to aging that are treated by members of the society as if they were established reality.
The interaction between age and culture can have various implications for cognition as age represents the effect of biological processes whereas culture represents the effect of sustaining experiences. Nevertheless, their interaction has rarely been examined.
Customs, laws, dress, architectural style, social standards, religious beliefs, and traditions are all examples of cultural elements.
In traditional societies, they care for the elderly in their homes which gives them a revered position and better quality of life. Modern societies will probably not go back to that because of the time and care involved, especially for families where both parents work.
The modernization theory of age stratification says that as a culture becomes more modern, urban, and industrialized, the less access to power older adults have.
If culture fosters a more extroverted personality style, we can expect more need for social interaction. Additionally, Individualistic cultures foster more assertive and outspoken behavior. When the general population encourages these gregarious behaviors, more ideas are exchanged and self-esteem increases.
These findings suggest that people from each culture develop their social reciprocity, or more generally, their personality, with age according to what they value.
The diversity seen in older age is not random. Public health professionals, and society as a whole, need to address these and other ageist attitudes, which can lead to discrimination, affect the way policies are developed and the opportunities older people have to experience healthy aging.
In addition to its intrinsic value, culture provides important social and economic benefits. With improved learning and health, increased tolerance, and opportunities to come together with others, culture enhances our quality of life and increases overall well-being for both individuals and communities.
An aging society may mean less innovation, less risk-taking, and more conservative values. But it also may mean a wiser culture that is more protective of its assets, including its young people. As the culture ages, the social temperament will grow more conservative and less flexible.
Societal aging can affect economic growth, patterns of work and retirement, the way that families function, the ability of governments and communities to provide adequate resources for older adults, and the prevalence of chronic disease and disability.