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Age Integration and Age Segregation

Historical Changes In The Level Of Age Integration, Advantages And Disadvantages Of Age Integration, Prospects For The Future

There are two distinct but related meanings of "age integration." First, it means breaking down age barriers; people's ages are not used to dictate what positions or roles they can hold or must give up. The second meaning of age integration is "cross-age interaction": people of different ages doing something together, such as working, learning, or having fun. These two aspects of age integration are related because more of either type is likely to be accompanied by the other. For example, when a work organization welcomes people of many different ages, it is likely to have a mix of ages working together. Still, these are distinct meanings of age integration, because an organization or society with one type of age integration would not necessarily have the other type. For instance, people can choose to be friends with people their own age even in a company that has broken down formal age barriers.

Matilda White Riley and John W. Riley, pioneers in the study of age integration, have developed a chart that depicts the life course in both an age-segregated society and an age-integrated society. It depicts ideal types, or extremes, which do not actually exist, but it is useful for thinking about age integration. The left-hand side of the chart depicts three life roles that are reserved for people of particular ages. Young people get education, middle aged people devote themselves to work, and leisure is reserved for older people. In the age-integrated model at the right-hand side of the chart, activities are no longer dictated by age. People may move in and out of education, work, and leisure over the course of their lives. When there are no longer rigid age norms to say what people can do at certain ages, people of different ages engage in the same activities.

Age integration is a concept that can be applied to all levels of society. At any given point in time, some societies are more age integrated than others, and the amount of age integration in a particular society will probably change over time. Institutions, organizations, groups, and individual lives can also be discussed in terms of age integration. At the institutional level, we might discuss higher education, and conclude that U.S. colleges and universities are far more age integrated than in the past. At the organizational level, many high-technology and dot.com companies hire mostly young people, whereas other kinds of companies are more age integrated. At the group level, the family is where people of different ages typically interact on a daily basis. At the individual level, some people live highly age-integrated lives as they move in and out of particular roles—such as work—over the course of their lives.

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