Disengagement Theory The Disengagement theory is a highly controversial because it is based on the premise that in order to ‘age the right way’ in midlife

Disengagement Theory
The Disengagement theory is a highly controversial because it is based on the premise that in order to ‘age the right way’ in midlife, an individual must disengage from society to prepare for death CITATION Cum61 l 1033 (Cumming & Henry, Growing Old, 1961). Disengagement theory was the first theory of aging developed by social scientists. It was originally formulated by Elaine Cumming and Warren Earl Henry in their 1961 book Growing Old. The disengagement theory of aging claims that it is natural and acceptable for older adults to withdraw from society and personal relationships, roles and activities as they age. The process is irreversible once it has started.   CITATION Bar l 1033 (Barbro Wadensten RN).

Social disengagement is driven by both the individual and the society. Because aging causes loss of knowledge and skill, an older person will eventually be unable to meet the requirements of his role in society. These changes may prompt the individual to disengage from these responsibilities. Alternately, the structure of society or an organization within that society may require the individual to disengage. It is applicable to elders in all cultures, although there might be variations. According to this theory, disengagement benefits both the older population and the social system. Gradual withdrawal from society and relationships preserves social equilibrium and promotes self-reflection for elders who are freed from societal roles. It furnishes an orderly means for the transfer of knowledge, capital, and power from the older generation to the young. It makes it possible for society to continue functioning after valuable older members die.

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In Growing Old, Cumming and Henry develop a logical argument for why older adults would naturally disengage from society. They formulate their argument along nine postulates to explain why it is rational for individuals who know that death is approaching and who have seen friends of their age pass to begin to anticipate their own deaths and disengage
Postulates of the Theory of Disengagement
Everyone expects death, and one’s abilities will likely deteriorate over time. As a result, every person will lose ties to others in his or her society.

Because individual interactions between people strengthen norms, an individual who has fewer varieties of interactions has greater freedom from the norms imposed by interaction. Consequently, this form of disengagement becomes a circular or self-perpetuating process.

Because men have a centrally instrumental role in America, and women a socio-emotional one, disengagement differs between men and women. At the time the theory was developed, men were seen as having a centrally instrumental role in American society, while women had a socio-emotional role. Thus, men’s central role was the workplace, while women’s was marriage and family. As a result, losing or abandoning a paying job would be a crisis to a man until he successfully socially disengaged, but it would not be a crisis to a woman.

The individual’s life is punctuated by ego changes. For example, aging, a form of ego change, causes knowledge and skill to deteriorate. However, success in an industrialized society demands certain knowledge and skill. To satisfy these demands, age-grading ensures that the young possess sufficient knowledge and skill to assume authority and that the old retire before they lose their skills. This kind of disengagement is affected by the individual, prompted by either ego changes or the organization, which is bound to organizational imperatives, or both.

For complete disengagement to occur, both the individual and society must be ready.  If neither is ready, continuing engagement results. When the individual is ready and society is not, a disjunction between the expectations of the individual and of the members of this social systems results, but engagement usually continues. When society is ready and the individual is not, the result of the disjunction is usually disengagement.

It is important to remember that “Growing Old” was published in 1961.  Cumming and Henry established their theory of social disengagement in an era man’s central role is work, and woman’s is marriage and family. If individuals abandon their central roles, they drastically lose social life space, and so suffer crisis and demoralization unless they assume the different roles required by the disengaged state.

The seventh postulate determines a person’s readiness to engage from social networks. An individual is ready if they perceive that their time on earth is short and their skill set and knowledge of what to do to be successful has diminished. Each level of society grants individuals permission to disengage because of the following: requirements of the rational-legal occupational system in an affluent society; the nature of the nuclear family; and the differential death rate.

Fewer interactions and disengagement from central roles lead to the relationships in the remaining roles changing. In turn, relational rewards become more diverse, and vertical solidarities are transformed to horizontal ones.

Disengagement theory is independent of culture, but the form it takes is bound by culture.

Critiques of disengagement theory
Soon after the publication of “Growing Old,” sociologists developed other models of aging that contradicted disengagement. Two resulting theories of aging offer a softer outlook on the transition from able adult to dependent senior. Both assert that the elderly remain a viable part of society until death, and that society places value in the role of seniors.

Activity theory contrasts with disengagement. It states that the older population is able to stay involved and active and that doing so, in fact, is the most advantageous approach to growing old. The only thing separating old age and middle age are biological processes, not societal wants and needs source: Schulz and Rockwood.
Continuity theory takes a more nuanced approach to the idea that we remain active and engaged throughout life. It proposes that in old age, people fall back on the most successful social frameworks they built over the years source: Schulz and Rockwood. That eases the physical and social limitations that naturally accompany aging.

Today, disengagement theory is largely a bygone era. Socialization in old age is known to have positive health benefits, more so than social withdrawal. Modernized long-term care facilities are designed and managed to foster interaction and activity among the residents. The link between old age and depression also highlights the importance of the elderly community maintaining contact with other people.

Society and the nature of work have changed. Many retired older people play an active part in their community and may continue to work in a part time job. 
The theory is criticized primarily for its definition of normal aging. The theory distinguishes between normal aging and pathological aging, so it neglects older adults who suffer from chronic illness. The theory also fails to explain how social institutions impact individuals and the way they age.

Works Cited BIBLIOGRAPHY
Barbro Wadensten RN, P. (. (n.d.). An analysis of psychosocial theories of ageing and theirrelevance to practical gerontological nursing in Sweden.

Cumming, E., ; Henry, W. (1961). Growing old, the process of disengagement. . In Postulates of Disengagement Theory of Aging. New York: Basic Books.

Cumming, E., ; Henry, W. E. (1961). Growing Old. New York: NY: Basic Books.

Retrieved from http://www.actforlibraries.org/an-overview-of-cumming-and-henrys-social-disengagement-theory/

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