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Status of Older People: Modernization

The Modernization Story

The term modernization came into popular use after World War II. It was used to describe the set of interrelated processes that occurred as Western societies were transformed from the agrarian, rural societies of the seventeenth century to the modern industrialized nations of the twentieth. Although the social changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution caused temporary social displacement as social institutions and individuals adapted to massive change, most modernization theorists believed such displacements were temporary and tolerable, given the progressive nature of modernization. Once a society had modernized its institutions, it was believed, it could fully embrace new scientific knowledge that would resolve remaining social and technological problems, creating a progressively wealthier and more stable society. This romanticized notion of the transformation of Western societies became a foundation for much social research in western Europe and North America.

In the postwar years, many argued that non-industrial societies would proceed toward development along approximately the same lines as the advanced industrial Western countries. The expectation was that the developed countries would encourage development in nonindustrial societies through the export and diffusion of investment, education, technology, and values. Modernizing nonindustrial countries would replace their traditional institutions, practices, and beliefs (which were viewed as impediments to modernization) with Western practices and values. This perspective viewed Western practices and values as liberating, and the potential modernization of traditional societies was viewed, optimistically, as a progressive step likely to enrich the lives of all members of modernizing societies. There was a belief that transforming traditional, agricultural societies into modern industrial societies would replicate the path to wealth and stability experienced by modern Western countries.

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