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Age Norms

Formal And Informal Age Norms

Age norms are woven into the fabric of many social institutions in both formal and informal ways. Formal age norms are codified in diverse laws and rules (Blake and Davis). They organize society by age in at least two interrelated ways: partitioning the population into general age-strata, each comprised of people assumed to possess similar capacities (e.g., using age to legally separate adulthood from pre-adulthood on the basis of presumed responsibility); and, second, using age to regulate individuals' access to assorted rights and responsibilities ranging from private to public domains (e.g., age of consent laws, obtaining a driver's license; see Cain, especially, pp. 345–352, for historical examples of these efforts).

The sociologist Bernice Neugarten and colleagues pioneered inquiry into informal age norms, which are unwritten and implicit, but there is scholarly disagreement over their precise definition and measurement. "Expectations regarding age-appropriate behavior" (Neugarten, Moore, and Lowe, p. 711), the "ages at which particular transitions ought to occur" (Settersten and Hagestad, 1996a, p. 179), or the "ages viewed as standard or typical for a given role or status by the modal group of members of a social system" (Lawrence, 1996, p. 211) are three common meanings. Age norms have been variously measured in surveys by asking about ideal, best, appropriate, or even typical ages associated with a variety of role transitions and/or everyday behaviors.

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