The Changing Significance of Social Class in Later Life

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 5:30 PM
Room: Booth 40
Oral Presentation
Paul HIGGS , Mental Health Sciences, University College London, London, United Kingdom
Chris GILLEARD , Mental Health Sciences, University City London, Brain Sciences, London, United Kingdom
During the 1980s the concept of class constituted a fundamental touchstone of social gerontology. This was especially true within the political economy approach to ageing, however with the development within many different societies of a ‘late’ phase of modernity this concern was overshadowed by an engagement with other stratification orders. This has had the consequence of leaving class analysis “surprisingly underdeveloped”. Although the field does at times focus on the class background of older people, the arbitrary implementation of Marxist or Weberian standpoints informs us only of the extent that older persons conform to middle-aged norms rather than shedding light either on the unique character of class relations in later life. Moreover, tracing the class position of older people back to the breadwinners’ final occupation does not really account the reality of older people’s connection to class. This ‘modernist’ strategy contains crucial analytical and empirical lacunae. For instance, whilst it may have been valid in the past when most individuals died either before or soon after statutory retirement age, nowadays retirement generally signals the start of a ‘third age’ phase of life. Moreover, instead of an ‘add and stir’ approach to class where age is ‘added on’ to conventional models, there is a need for researchers to explicitly view people as ‘older’ men and ‘older’ women when they are addressing the linkages between ageing and class. This presentation will introduce the key themes of power identity and lifestyle as they connect to class in later life and assess the extent to which social class is a useful category in studying old age.