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Age in AmericaThe Colonial Era to the Present$
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Corinne T. Field and Nicholas L. Syrett

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9781479870011

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479870011.001.0001

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Delineating Old Age

Delineating Old Age

From Functional Status to Bureaucratic Criteria

(p.301) 14 Delineating Old Age
Age in America

W. Andrew Achenbaum

NYU Press

This chapter is about elderly Americans who fall into the category of older age, those in their seventies, eighties, and nineties. W. Andrew Achenbaum argues that chronological age has become a poor means of identifying the capabilities and needs of this demographic group because there is such variability in old age. Achenbaum begins in colonial America, showing that some older Americans were revered, but others fared poorly if they fell victim to disease, injury, or inability to work. Through the antebellum era, chronological elderliness itself was rarely the reason that older Americans were treated differently from their younger peers. By the turn of the century, however, Americans’ reliance upon chronological age, while by no means forcing people out of the workplace, had come to have greater significance in governing the treatment of elderly Americans. Bureaucratic federal programs like old age relief and pensions played a growing role in designating some workers as elderly. Achenbaum demonstrates that the growing reliance upon specific arbitrary ages for administering programs over the course of the twentieth century provoked a backlash by late in the century. He concludes by arguing that Americans would be wise to evaluate each other based on their functional ages rather than their chronological ages.

Keywords:   elderly, pensions, old age relief, functional age, chronological age, old age, bureaucracy

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