Seton Hall University
Department of Sociology/Anthropology



SOCI 2511: Growing Older: The Sociology of Aging

Professor Philip M. Kayal, A&S Hall 214


Fall, 2001


                                                                  Course Outline



The development of a distinctive yet coherent sociology of aging is a rather recent development, arising in part in response to the social reality that people are living longer than ever before.  Aging is often included as part of "life-cycle" sociology, that is, as a natural development. Given the population increase in the age cohort over 65, and now over 80, it will be our intention to focus on these "elderly" rather than any other life-cycle cohorts.  However, we will pay attention to the concept of  "life-cycle" because aging is part of the normal cycle of human events.


Although we will examine and critique popular theories explaining the causes and nature of the aging process, our concern will primarily be on the meaning of aging in a complex, urban society like ours.  To understand  aging in this country, however, references will be made throughout the course to other societies.


Our approach, will essentially be functional in emphasis, that is, it will emphasis the nature and relationship of aging to economic, political, and social forces in general. We will approach aging in terms of the relationships that different age cohorts have to the society and its institutions and vice versa. Functional theory (seeing how parts of a social system intersect and sustain one another) and "ageism" actually go very well together. After critiquing functionalism and aging,  we will attend to the politics of aging and the structure of age relationships. There are also subjective meanings given to the aging process that we will examine.


Since this is a sociology course, our attention will be on those societal arrangements which affect the life course of "aging" men and women. Consequently, we will be concerned with the following topics: the approach and perspective of the sociology of aging, the meaning of aging itself in this society and cross culturally, the role of stereotypes and stigma in defining  and creating our understanding of the elderly and the aging process, and the meaning and place of "work," "play," and "sex" in the life of the elderly, as well as their understanding and response to the experience of illness, death, and dying. We are interested in the functions that the elderly perform and the conditions which make their existence problematic.  Ideally, students will examine and compare "good" adjustments to aging and less successful ones. 


Because we are interested in how different populations in different cultures and societies interpret and respond to the aging experience, we will do similar comparisons by race, ethnicity, religion, sex, and sexual orientation in our own society.


Life in institutions designed to serve the elderly will also be examined as well as alternatives to these bureaucratic solutions.  More specifically, the course will focus on the nature and function of "ageism" and the meanings and interrelations of age and sex norms with various statuses and roles that we all will eventually play.  Our particular emphasis will be on aging in a highly "age-graded" society like our own and the various psychological and social adjustments people must make as they pass through the different age strata.  We will also pay attention to institutional arrangements and how they affect and respond to the aging process.


Required Texts:


Kart, Cary and Jen. Kinney. 2001.The Realities of Aging. Boston: Allyn and Bacon..


Annual Editions. 1995. Aging. Conn. Duskin Publishers.


                                                                  Term Projects


Students are expected to submit a complete, annotated research bibliography on some aspect of aging. You do not have to write a term paper per se. Rather, I would like you to identify a research area, together with a short statement as to what it is that you wish to investigate in this area, and why you are interested in this topic. At the end, I want you to identify what it is you have learned from this exercise.  For example, you may be interested in examining if single people age differently (more successfully or less so) from the married, or how urban and suburban aging differs.  If so, what specific item or variable would you concentrate on? You could look at finances, religious behavior, beliefs, exercise, conveniences, support systems, sexual activity, etc. . You may, for example, want to know what aging means to different classes of people. (This question would best utilize  a symbolic interactionist perspective).  Or you may be interested in minority or ethnic aging or the role of religious beliefs in adjustment to aging? Or you might research aging by sex, or the nutritional status, or adjustment to aging, etc.  Perhaps, you would like to discuss the issue of nursing home care vs. family care or why some nursing institutions work better than others. You might focus on the psychological and sociological needs of the elderly as well as their finances and/or consumption habits, and/or their political attitudes.


There is really no end to topics you can relate the elderly to. You might be interested in death and dying (see sources at end of this syllabus) and how religious beliefs affect adjustments to aging, death or dying. Or you might be interested  in demographic changes in the elderly population of the United States and World.  Perhaps you would like to compare what the elderly themselves have to say about their experience and what the so-called experts have said. How about studying "living longer scams" that seem to affect the elderly (or Americans in general a lot). Be inventive. The field is open.


An annotated bibliography is one which the listings are reviewed and summarized. That is, you read each article and/or book and briefly summarize them, stating their thesis, methodology, and findings, etc.  In short, it is like doing all the advanced research work before you write a paper, that is, the information you would need to begin writing.  Obviously, any book you choose (as opposed to article) will have to be quickly reviewed. This can be done by looking at the Preface, Foreward, Table of Contents, Index, reviews of the book in the sociological journals, and by reading a chapter.


Learn to use Sociofile to help find sources via the computer. Sociofile will actually do some abstracting for you, but you should check out the sources yourself to see what they left out. In any case, you need to get a list of about 5 academic sources. Annotate them and compare and contrast two of them for a discussion in class (then submitted typed to teacher).


Part II: In addition to traditional academic sources, I want you to use the Internet (World Wide Web) to find out other information about the elderly and your topic. You can do searches, find sources, enter into a discussion group with some elderly group, visit a "virtual nursing home" or even engage the elderly in computerization. The computer could be a wonderful link between isolated individuals or communities. Perhaps we can engage some elderly in conversation via the Internet. More on this during the semester. Your textbook by Kart and Kinney offer many sites for your consideration.


To search the web for sites on the elderly and your topic, you will have to learn to use Alta Vista, Yahoo, Lycos,  etc. effectively.  Find out which key words get more hits (elderly, seniors, the aged, etc.). I think elderly is more broad than say "aging."  Learn to use the Thesaurus to find the words the computer wants you to use and locate 5 good and useful websites which deal with your topic.  Learn to evaluate the value and validity of a website; some sites are junk! Many are simply useless. Give me the criteria you used to determine its value or usefulness. You may prefer to do direct interviews or join an on-going discussion group on your topic.


Blackboard: The University is replacing Learning Space with Blackboard, an interactive software program that allows us to have discussion groups and use email to communicate with each other at the same time. An instructor will be by to teach you how to use this software to participate in class. Every student is expected to participate in Blackboard discussions.


Course Expectations and Norms


Students are expected to attend all classes (unless excused by the professor).  Students who cut frequently after being warned by the professor will be severely penalized with a reduction in grade! All students must have an operative e-mail account at SHU one week after class begins. No delays or exceptions! There  will be three examinations during the semester taken from readings and lectures. They will count for about 60% of the grade. The term project will be worth about 20% and the remaining 20% will be up to the discretion of both the professor and student since it will be based on participation, attitude, deportment, punctuality, e-mail quizzes or assignments, and occasional spot assignments or readings.


Participation in class is expected and students are encouraged to seek out and contribute news items of special interest to the class either in the form of news reports, films, or other readings. There are daily articles on the elderly in the New York Times and often in the Newark Star Ledger.


Students should monitor their behavior at all times, avoid talking and whispering and any other, disruptive behavior. No Cell phones in class, no leaving class for a cell phone call.  If you leave the room, don't come back! All students are expected to work alone on their projects except in cases permitted by the instructor. It is dishonest and unfair to represent another's work as your own or to use sources as your own without giving due credit.  Doing so constitutes a serious breach of academic etiquette and could lead to dismissal from the university.




The following professional and academic journals are excellent sources for your project above. Check also with the librarians and access SOCIFILE for a review of the literature.


Research on Aging                                               Journal of Housing for the Elderly

The Gerontologist                                                Journal of Nutrition for the Elderly

Journal of Gerontology                                        Journal of Family Issues

Journal of Marriage and the Family                   Aging

Family and Community Health                            Aged Care and Services Review

Social Problems                                                   Clinical Gerontologist

Journal of the American Geriatric Society          Educational Gerontology

Geriatric Nursing                                                 Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry

Geriatrics                                                             Gerontology and Geriatrics Education

International Journal of Aging and Human Development


The following articles are on reserve in the library and are required readings for this course. Tell the librarian at the check out desk that you are in Dr. Kayal=s class and that you want to read the articles below when assigned. S/he will go to my file and give you a copy which you will sign for or check out. You are responsible for their safe keeping and return. You may NOT use these articles in your annotated bibliographic search.


1) Davis, "The Sociology of Parent-Youth Conflict"

2) Benet,  "Why They Live to Be a Hundred. . . ."

3) Butler, "Age-ism, Another Form of Bigotry"

4) Lobsenz, "Sex and the Senior Citizen"

5) Myerhoff, "Telling One's Story"




6) Fontana,  "Growing Old Between Walls."

7) Gottesman,  "Why Nursing Homes Do What they Do?"

8) Gustafson, "Dying: The Career of the Nursing Home Patient"

9) Palmore and Manton, "The Institutionalized Old." 

Specific Issues
10) Richard I. Kirkland Jr. "Why We Will Live Longer…And What It Will Mean"
11) Charles A. Cor "Coping With Dying: Lessons That We Should and Should Not Learn From theWork Of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross"
12) Nancy S. Jecker, PhD and Lawrence Schneiderman, MD "Is Dying Young Worse Than Dying Old?"
13) Russell L. McIntyre, Th.D. "Physician-Assisted Dying: Contemprary Twists to an Ancient Dilemma"
14) Walter A. Rosenbaum, Ph.D and James We. Button, Ph.D. "The Unquiet Future of Intergenerational Politics"
15) Michael Ryan "Undercover Among the Elderly"

Excellent SHU Library Sources:


You may want to begin your search by checking out the information in the following books. They all would supply leads both in topics and in authors or sources. Feel free to include one of these books in your own bibliography, only be sure to let me know what you think the book is about: its organization, topics, objective, purpose, etc.


Biracree, Tom and Biracree, Nancy.  Over Fifty: The Resource Book for the Better Half of Your Life.  New York: Harper Perennial, 1991.  (Reference HQ 1059.5  U5.  B47 1991)


Doress-Worters, Paula B. and Laskin Siegal, Diana, eds.  The New Ourselves, Growing Older: Women Aging with Knowledge and Power.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.  (Reference HQ 1064  .U5 D669 1994)


Duensing, Edward E., ed. America's Elderly: A Sourcebook.  New Brunswick, NJ:  Center for Urban Policy Research, 1988.  (Reference HQ 1064  .U5 S63  1979)


Kapp, Marshall B.  Key Words in Ethics, Law and Aging.  New York: Springer Publishing, 1995.  (Reference HQ 1061  .K3525  1995)


Kastenbaum, Robert and Kastenbaum, Beatrice, eds.  Encyclopedia of

Death.  Phoenix, AZ:  Oryx Press, 1989.  (Reference HQ 1073  .E54  1989)


Maddox, George L., ed. The Encyclopedia of Aging.  New York:  Springer Publishing, 1987.  (Reference HQ 1061.  E53  1987)


Manheimer, Ronald J., ed.  Older Americans= Almanac:  A Reference Work on Seniors in the United States.  Detroit, MI:  Gale, 1994.  (Reference HQ  1064  .U5  o416  1994)


Marquis Academic Media. Sourcebook on Aging.  2nd edition.  Chicago:  Marquis Who's Who, 1979.  (Reference HQ  1064  .U5  A646 1988)


National Directory of Retirement Facilities 1991.  Third edition.  Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press, 1991.  (Reference HQ 1063  .N37  1991) 


Monk, Abraham, ed.  The Columbia Retirement Handbook.  New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.  (Reference HQ 1064  .U5  C534  1994)


Norback, Craig and Norback, Peter.  The Older American's Handbook.  New York:  Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1977.  (Reference HQ 1064  .U5  N58)


Nusberg, Charlotte and Sokolovsky, Jay, eds.  The International Directory of Research and Researchers in Comparative Gerontology.  Third edition.  Washington, DC: American Association of Retired Persons, 1994.  (Reference HQ 1061   .I554  1994)


Palmore, Erdman B., ed.  Handbook on the Aged in the United States.  Westport, CT:  Greenwood, 1984.  (Reference HQ  1064  .U5  H23  1984)


Quigley, Christine, ed.  Death Dictionary.  Jefferson, NC:  McFarland, 1994.  (Reference  HQ  1073  .Q54  1994)


Schick, Frank L. and Schick, Renee, eds.  Statistical Handbook on Aging Americans.  Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press, 1994.  (Reference HQ 1064  .U5  S695  1994)


Ventura-Merkel, Catherine and Parks, Elaine.  Intergenerational Programs:  A Catalogue of Profiles.  Washington, DC:  National Council on the Aging, 1984.  (Reference HQ  1064.  U5 V45 1984)



Some useful Internet Sites:


Careers in Gerontology

Aging in Social Context


Internet Aging Resources


From Age to Age


Secrets of Aging: the Body


Research Into Aging


Resources in Social Gerontology


Useful Gerontological links


Resources in Gerontology


Modern Maturity Magazine