question 1. Which four factors have sociologists identified that people consider in applying the label of “old” to themselves? Please explain.
Four Factors in Our Decision
If there is no fixed age line that people cross, what makes someone “old”? Sociologists have identified several factors that spur people to apply the label “old” to themselves.
The first factor is biology. One person may experience “signs” of aging earlier than others: wrinkles, balding, aches, difficulty in doing something that he or she used to take for granted. Consequently, some people feel “old” at an earlier or later age than others.
A second factor is personal history or biography. An accident that limits someone’s mobility, for example, can make that person feel old sooner than others. Or there is giving birth at a young age, as with Whoopi Goldberg, in the situation that opened this section.
A third reason is gender age, the relative value that a culture places on men’s and women’s ages. For example, graying hair on a man, and even a few wrinkles, may be perceived as signs of “maturity,” while on a woman, these same features may indicate that she is getting “old.” “Mature” and “old” carry considerably different meanings; most of us like to be called mature, but few of us like to be called old. Similarly, around the world, most men are able to marry younger spouses than women can. Maria might be an exception and marry Bill, who is 20 years younger than she. But in most marriages in which there is a 20-year age gap, the odds greatly favor the wife being the younger of the pair. This is not biology in action; rather, it is the social construction of appearance and gender age.
The fourth factor in deciding when people label themselves as “old” is timetables, the signals societies use to inform their members that old age has begun. Since there is no automatic age at which people become “old,” these timetables vary around the world. To signal the onset of old age, one group may choose a particular birthday, such as the sixtieth or sixty-fifth. Other groups do not even have birthdays, making such numbers meaningless. In the West, retirement is sometimes a cultural signal of the beginning of old age—which is one reason that some people resist retirement.
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