A theory concerned with how interaction mediates between the attributes of individuals and society that accepts the premise that elders are disengaged from society and proposes that a pattern of interaction develops when group members (by virtue of age) have common backgrounds and interests or are excluded from interaction with other groups in the society, or both.
Subculture Theory of Aging (Rose and Petersen)
The subculture theory, first proposed by Rose in the early 1960s, states that old people, as a group, have their own norms, expectations, beliefs, and habits; therefore they have their own subculture. The theory also highlights that older people are generally less integrated in the larger society and interact in the bigger extent among themselves, in comparison with people representing other age groups. Moreover, the theory holds that the formation of the aged subculture is primary a response to the eventual loss of established status in the society resulting from old age, which is so negatively defined in the United States that people by all means do not want to be perceived as old.
So, the subculture theory of aging shows how aging is viewed from the conflict perspective. This perspective asserts that the elderly compete with younger members of society for the same resources and social rewards and suffer a variety of disadvantages because of their lack of social power. The subculture theory of aging states that older persons form subcultures in order to interact with others with similar backgrounds, experiences, attitudes, values, beliefs, and lifestyles. This happens not only by choice but because of segregation, social differentiation, and discrimination based on age. This theory assumes that aged people sever social ties with people from other age cohorts and increase them with others of similar age. These result in intensified age consciousness, creating social bond based on age that becomes more important than other variables that differentiate people.
In the aged subculture, individual status is based on health and mobility, rather than on occupational, educational, or economic achievements that were previously important. Rose predicted that one of the main outcomes of the aged subculture development would be maturity of the aging group consciousness that would serve to improve the self-image of the older people and change the negative cultural definitions and stereotypes of aging.
Because the aged subculture has millions of members in this country (and growing fast with generation of baby-boomers), it constitutes a powerful minority group that can properly organize and make public demands. The growth of groups as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), whose membership approaches to 40 million people, is evidence of the social importance of the aged subgroup.
George Maddox contested the subculture theory of aging in 1973 on grounds of the acquired “evidence which indicates that the aging are less disadvantaged than was once assumed”. Also, the membership in the group known as aging is neither permanent nor exclusive. If anyone lives long enough he will join the group.
According to other researchers Weinberger and Millham, the physical appearance of the aging is not enough to justify discriminatory treatment by others. For example, people who appear old, are highly respected when they function as judges, physicians, legislators and in other prestigious positions. So, they assumed that the aging are a minority group is not a useful framework for describing their status in society.
At the same time (1975), the study by Harris and Associates, Inc. revealed the similar findings, opposing to the concept of a homogenous aging population. Their finding indicated that there is no such thing as a typical aging person. People generally don’t stop of being themselves and suddenly turning into the old person, that fits society’s myths and stereotypes. Instead, the psychological factors that effect people when they are young, persist throughout the life-cycle.
Sources and Additional Information:
Nursing for wellness in older adults -- By Carol A. Miller
Decoding the cultural stereotypes about aging: new perspectives on aging ... -- By Evelyn M. O'Reilly
Work with older people: challenges and opportunities -- By Irene A. Gutheil