Aging is remarkably unequal. Who survives to grow old in America and the circumstances they face once there reflect durable racial, socioeconomic, and gender inequalities that structure our lives from birth. Yet within the field of social stratification and mainstream sociology proper, examinations of the rapidly growing population of older Americans are often relegated to a “gerontological” periphery. This essay posits that the failure to place aging as a core concern in stratification and inequality is a missed opportunity. We argue for the importance of reintegrating studies on the stratification of aging and explain why such a move is necessary. Specifically, we posit that (a) examining the aging population is necessary for understanding American inequality because aging is an outcome that is ubiquitous yet highly stratified; (b) aging and being seen as “old” in a youth-focused society are stratifying processes in their own right; and (c) later life provides for analytical comparisons that are illustrative of how key mechanisms of inequality structure and stratify. After examining insights provided by a new wave of research on the aging U.S. population, we revisit the implications for understanding inequality and stratification in a graying and unequal America.
SOURCE: Abramson, Corey M. and Portacolone, Elena. “What is New with Old? What old age teaches us about inequality and stratification.” Sociology Compass, March 2017, 13 p.
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