Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Stereotypes? A Diversified Understanding of Successful Ageing

By Merve Tuncer, PhD Candidate, Sociology

One can argue that there is so much stigma around being an older adult in the 21st century, especially in a Western context. So many people imagine (and consider) older people as senile, rigid, old-fashioned, unhealthy, conservative or ignorant and simply see them as a burden. But where are these perceptions originating from? If we look closer, we can see that many of these negative old age stereotypes centralize around productivity. And unfortunately we live in a stratified capitalistic society where your status is interwoven to the fabric of your class position. What this means is that one’s perceived position in a given society is closely linked to one’s socio-economic conditions, and as we all know, older people usually do not engage in paid-labour in Western societies due to the established old age pension system.

What this welfare regime provides for older adults is a relatively secure and stabilized later life in terms of well-being. But this very system also cannot stop highlighting the economic ‘burden’ created by older adults. This understanding simply de-values everything that have no economic value. Therefore, it disregards everything that is produced and fostered outside the realm of economic productivity. For instance, it overlooks the unpaid and/or voluntary work performed by older adults, it devalues the accumulated knowledge of older adults, and it puts the heavy weight of structural problems on older adults themselves. If we look closer to the policies of most ageing models, we can see that their main concern is to keep older people in the work force as long as possible. In a similar vein, nowadays we can see the pension systems are shrinking or being replaced with different retirement schemas. The problem with these prescribed ageing models is two folded; a) they contribute to the construction of negative old age stereotypes and in return increase ageism, b) they often overlook the other experiences of ageing that can be considered productive, healthy or successful.

My PhD project focuses on the intersectional aspect of later life experiences. Because of this, I am trying to explore a more diversified understanding of old age and make the other polars of the ageing spectrum more visible. I particularly focus on migrant women who are now ageing in Sweden. I am researching both the structural and the agency-oriented aspect of this experience. I am trying to understand their relation to the apparatuses of the welfare regime (i.e. their relation to the health care system, social services, pension etc.) and their experiences with regard to gender roles, migrant status and later life. On the more agency-oriented level, I am looking into their relation to their family and acquaintances; how they mobilize their social capital, how they manage their daily tasks and so on. The way they organize their everyday lives, their resistance practices and the decision-making processes on allocation, adaptation, coping and rejecting are my prior interest with regards to their experiences. My intention in doing this is to explore the experiences that are excluded or disregarded by most of the mainstream ageing models and to broaden our perspective on what successful, productive or healthy can look like in different contexts. My project aims to make the resistance practices and coping mechanisms of older adults more visible and to contribute to the development of useful tools to overcome the ageist stereotypes.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *