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Age Norms

Age Norms And Behavior

Despite plenty of evidence of both formal and informal age norms, we know less about their influence on people's actual behavior. One early statement suggested that age norms operate as a system of "prods and breaks. . .in some instances hastening an event, in others delaying it" (Neugarten et al., p. 711). While intuitively plausible, several critical issues warrant consideration. Life course researchers often investigate large-scale patterns in age-related attitudes and transitions through surveys of a general population. Shared attitudes are not equivalent to shared behavior, however (Newcomb, p. 268). Nor can we assume that age norms are responsible even when we observe regularities in timing and sequencing of transitions (Marini).

To best capture the behavioral effects of age norms, we should consider smaller groups like families, peer groups, or even an organization. Indeed, studies of these concrete settings, which organize our day-to-day experience, reveal age norms' effects as the following examples attest: the age-graded nature of schools affected kids' lunchroom seating patterns (Thorne, p. 42); family "kin-scripts," in some low-income, minority communities, "expect[ed] that designated adolescent females become 'early childbearers' since grandmothers often reared these children (Stack and Burton, p. 159); and organizational employees, like Hopkins at the beginning of this entry, used shared perceptions of typical agerelated career progress to gauge their own and others' progress (including supervisors whose ratings of employees were influenced by such age judgements) (Lawrence, 1988).

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