Research Proposal: Age Discrimination Using Social Breakdown Labeling Theory

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Elderly Care, Death and Dying Reflects Social and Cultural Breakdown and Age Discrimination

In America, especially early in the American history, it would not be unusual to walk into a family residence and find extended generations of family living under the same roof, in the same environment with their first generation immigrant parents. The parents might be well into their last years of life, but they were surrounded by family members who shared in the care of their years of dwindling light. Much of it probably had to do with the expansive country that was to be populated in the following decades, even centuries since the arrival of the early colonists.

In the beginning, however, parents arrived with their families to a wide space of untamed wilderness, and the hardships of that wilderness took its toll. Families stayed together out of the necessity of contending with the problems presented by the wilderness, the needs of the family to sustain itself, and in order to increase their personal land wealth. Large families were commonplace, because it took many people and hands to clear and work the land to, first, self-sustaining, and then, later, to income producing land that would help to sustain the large families.

In America today, large families are very much a thing of the long forgotten past, along with the mule and plough. As technology increased, and untamed space disappeared in America, the American family shrank in numbers, until today, when the meaning of single family homes tends to be defined as the exclusion of all others other than the immediate family. There are no extended families living in single residences, no grandmothers, grandfathers, brother-in-law, or sister-in-law -- at least not on a permanent long-term basis. But noticeably is the absence of the elderly family member, who today maintains their own living until such a time as that individual must downsize to a smaller and more manageable living space reflective of their age and agility and general health. There remains, however, such a radical change in the family lifestyle in today's busy world of soccer moms and work demands, that the plight of the elderly has taken a back seat to the other more immediate family concerns. This has created a void, wherein the elderly family member often becomes lost to the institutionalized care of strangers, absent the familiar living and support of extended family. It is not a healthy situation, and it is social condition that has become a social anathema that is being experienced in other countries around the world.

On the elderly in America, Lillian B. Rubin (2007), in her book 60 and Up, puts it into perspective this way:

"It has become the baby boom generation's latest, and in some ways most agonizing life crisis: what to do when the parents who took care of you can no longer take care of themselves," Rubin quotes a writer from Time, Cathy Booth. Rubin cites Booth further, quoting her as describing the plight of American elderly as, "descended into elder-care hell, when my mother, then sixty-nine, was found to have Lou Gherig's disease (Rubin, p. 111)."

To describe elder care today, Rubin has chosen Booth as a summation of the plight of the elderly. She, however, has chosen, too, a person who expresses a conscience in the plight of her loved one. Perhaps even felt helpless to make choices for her mother other than those that equated to elder care hell. There are many elderly who are surrendered in the twilight years leading to final hours of life who are physically and emotionally abandoned from the love of their family. Something has gone very differently in the family as Americans have evolved to the present; something very disturbing that is a comment on not just American society, but society around the world.

Japan, a country where before World War II, the elderly were held in high esteem, valued for their life experiences, the knowledge that they carried with them, the contributions that they made to their families, and who remained a part of their family until they passed on; are today finding a very different culture in which they are no longer the valued members of a traditional and culturally inherited family way of life. This stark change in postwar traditional values was summed up in 1972 by a minister of labor, K. Hara, who was quoted by Takeshi Ishida (1989), in his book, Japanese Political Culture, as saying, "that if old people had to live in public homes for the elderly, it was their own fault (p. 33)."

The comments cited here give a perspective from both sides of the social plight of the elderly around the world today: political and emotional family insights. This paper explores the plight of the elderly, focusing on American society, as it exists today. It is an issue that receives little attention, because the elderly have weak voices, and comments on their lives and needs are expressed largely through institutional settings with a corporate leadership focused on profit lines. These corporations have more power and influence than any one American family, but the American family that surrenders their loved ones to these institutional settings has a role of responsibility too. They are faced with tough choices, choices that impact the lives they have made for their selves with the immediate family.

This essay will look at the question of whether or not the American elderly have, like much else in America today, become disposable in the lives of the American family, and the role that the government and economics play in the disposition of elderly to elder-care hell. This essay will also demonstrate that elder care abuse begin much earlier than some of the identified studies suggest, beginning at around age 50 with age discrimination, demonstrating that elder abuse arises out of a social breakdown and labeling theory, which, then, manifests in more intense and severe neglect and abuse as the person ages, and experiences the processes of dying.

The Deterioration of Traditional Family Values in America Regarding Elderly

Harold V. Cordry and Leslie Foster Stebbins (2001), in their book, Work and Family in America, write that just as child care emerged as a national need some thirty years ago, so too has elder care emerged along that same line of family urgency and priority now (46). Cordry and Foster Stebbins distinguish the level of care and care givers providing that care along class lines, saying:

"Although very wealthy families are able to purchase high quality services for their relatives, and families with very low incomes can receive institutional care, for middle class families there are few alternatives between informal home care and institutional care (England 1989) (Cordry and Foster Stebbins 46)."

This leads Cordry and Foster Stebbins to conclude that, during the 1990s, an estimated 22.4 million households in the U.S. were providing care to a parent, relative, or friend over the age of 50 (citing Harrington 1999, Cordry and Foster Stebbins 46). Cordry and Foster Stebbins cite Harrington (1999) again, calculating that 65% of disabled people (in the 1990s) lived at home, or with a relative, and that the primary care givers for the needs of those elderly family members was received from their family, and with minimal government support for that care giving (46).

While Cordry and Foster Stebbins might accurately have defined populations with the supporting statistics, that 22.4 million households provided care during the 1990s, equating to 65% of the disabled people in the country receiving that family care, it does not describe the quality of the care being given, nor does it state that the care was being delivered in a family setting. It is this population too that gives rise to concern about reports of elder care abuse, as well as in the institutional settings.

Cordry and Foster Stebbins cite Neal, et al., 1993, saying that it is a myth that adult children no longer provide care for their elderly parents and relatives as was once the tradition in the "good old days (Cordry and Foster Stebbins 46). However, the Cambridge Handbook of Age and Aging reports the problem of elder abuse in different countries around the world as on the rise (Johnson, Bengston, Coleman, and Kirkwood 2006 324). The authors of the handbook say:

"The socioeconomical breakdown has created an unexpected and inadequate way of living within a family, which promotes conflict when facing the new intergenerational exchange. These new forced living arrangements have generated a reversal of roles between family members that were culturally defined, structured, and programmed (WHO/INPEA 2001a 2001b) (Johnson, et al. 324)."

This description of studies conducted in South America and in Africa and other areas of the world, could ostensibly be likewise applied in logic and theory to aging, death and dying in American society. Especially at this time in American history and society, when we are witnessing the breakdown of economic structure in a way that adversely impacts all of the class groups cited by… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Age Discrimination Using Social Breakdown Labeling Theory.  (2009, August 8).  Retrieved November 21, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/age-discrimination-using-social-breakdown/3573976

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"Age Discrimination Using Social Breakdown Labeling Theory."  Essaytown.com.  August 8, 2009.  Accessed November 21, 2019.
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