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Status of Older People: Modernization

Modernization Theory And Social Gerontology

The social processes involved in societal modernization have profound effects on all people living in modernizing societies, including people of advanced age. Industrialization changed the way goods and services were produced and where production occurred. The rise of mass education expanded literacy and exposed people to new ideas and practices in science and technology. Family forms, cultural values, and other social institutions were not immune from changes resulting from modernization processes. Despite its shortcomings, modernization, as a conceptual framework, provides a useful way to understand some of the processes and effects of the social transformations of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. By considering the interrelationships between various types and paces of change, important insights about the potential effects of broad social transformations on societies and the people living in them have been gained.

Formal modernization theory provided a platform upon which historians and social scientists could ask research questions designed to better understand how older people fared under rapidly changing social circumstances. While it is a valid critique that modernization theory alone oversimplifies the complex processes and interactions that condition the status of older people in their social worlds, it is also true that modernization theory spurred thoughtful and sustained research designed to prove or disprove its assumptions. This research, building on the pioneering work of modernization theorists, has provided key findings that have clarified our understanding of the myriad and evolving roles of elderly persons in modern and modernizing societies. It has helped us to understand the complex interactions between changes in a society’s social structure and people’s racial, ethnic, gender, and cultural positions, and the outcomes that these complex social relationships generate.



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