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Age Norms

What Are Age Norms?, Formal And Informal Age Norms, Variation In Age Norms, Age Norms And Behavior

Hopkins (CEO of large American broadcasting company): ". . .you're at an important stage of your career. How old are you?"

Rath (Hopkins's assistant): "Thirty-three." Hopkins: "That's an important age. In the next six or seven years, you should really be on your way." (Wilson, p. 224)

Hopkins, a fictional character from Sloan Wilson's 1955 novel, The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, believes age is a benchmark with which to gauge someone's career progress. Besides career progress, people may perceive appropriate ages or age ranges for numerous behaviors and life events. Social scientists studying aging take such perceptions as indicative of age norms, a focal concept in apprehending how age organizes social life. This review of age norms has several objectives: first, define age norms and distinguish between their formal and informal types; second, provide examples of age norms drawn from education, work, and family domains with an aim toward illustrating both their historical and contemporary variation; third, discuss the behavioral effects of age norms, including what it means to be on- or off-time and whether or not sanctions are brought to bear against those violating age-related rules; and finally, highlight some persistent controversies and limitations in age norm research.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 1