Preprint / Version 1

Open Anthro Vol 5-1 Advancing Age- Anthropological Perspectives on Being and Growing Older



Open Anthropology, aging, Adolescence, Adulthood and Old Age, anthropology age, anthropology


The Editors’ Note: Advancing Age: Anthropological Perspectives on Being and Growing Older
Sallie Han, Department of Anthropology, SUNY Oneonta
Jason Antrosio, Department of Anthropology, Hartwick College

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” Attributed variously to Mark Twain, Jack Benny, and Satchel Paige, the quote’s provenance is uncertain—and a perusal of the anthropological literature might cause us to doubt its purported wisdom.

Given the graying of the world’s population, age is indeed an issue that ought to be minded and it certainly matters. The news about being and growing old is that so many people today are living longer. Globally, life expectancy at birth now stands at 70 years. According to the United Nations, people age 60 and over counted for 12 percent of the world’s population (901 million) in 2015. That number is projected at 2.1 billion by 2050.

The gaining of years represents both challenges and opportunities, as evidenced in the 10 articles and 6 book and film reviews included in this issue of Open Anthropology. In a youth-oriented society such as the United States today, being and growing older is not uncommonly talked and thought about in negative terms that emphasize decline and diminishment—in physical function and health, mental acuteness and capability, social connectedness, and cultural relevance. Not surprisingly, there is an emphasis on aging “well” or “successfully” that is generally modeled on more youthful conditions. Yet, seniority is also associated with knowledge, experience, and wisdom, and elder status is understood to be deserving of deference, respect, and even celebration. Aging might affect one’s activities, but this shift can be welcome as retirement, rest or relief from a set of expectations that defined adult life, as seen in the readings on older women’s and men’s experiences of the changes in their bodies.
At the same time, it ought to be recognized that people not only are living longer, but also working later into their lives—for example, the Pew Research Center reports increases in the number of older Americans in paid employment. The U.S. Census notes that most grandparents living with their grandchildren are age 50-59 In addition, the number of grandparents raising grandchildren is also on the rise in the U.S., which is blamed on the problem of opioid addiction that is now being described as an epidemic or crisis. This kind of “orphaning” of older people and children has been witnessed in sub-Saharan African societies that have been most ravaged by HIV/AIDS.

The articles collected here provide a glimpse into the range of both the experiences of older people in diverse cultural and social contexts, and the approaches and insights that anthropologists have applied and gained in their studies of being and growing old. The experience of age is an issue of mind and matter, culture and biology, attachment and isolation, remembering and forgetting.


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