Psychological Effects of Aging on African Americans Term Paper

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Psychological effects of aging on African-Americans

The field of study on the aging process has gained significance in the United States of America in the recent past. The reason for this is that there is a rapid increase in the number of citizens of the United States of America who are above the age of sixty five and the quickest growing age segment is those who are above the age of eighty five years. The population of these two age groups in the United States of America is estimated to be about thirty four million. These figures are expected to rise in a significant manner as the highest fertility period between 1946 and 1964 in the form of the Baby Boomers grow older. It has been estimated that by the year of 2030 the number of citizens of the United States of America over the age of sixty five will be the same as the number of children in the country. This graying of the United States of America will have its effects on the full population and with that the issue of aging is only going to become more and more significant. (Chapter 1: The Growth of Social Gerontology)

Aging in the African-American Population:

Estimates show that there are almost two million African-Americans that make up the quickly growing aging segment of those above the age of sixty five years and this goes on to make up eight percent of the African-American population, but it is this segment of the African-American population that is growing the fastest and it is estimated that by the year twenty fifty would grow to fifteen percent of the African-American population. This growth in the aging population is mainly due to the fall in the death and birth rates. The number of elderly in the African-American population is less than when compared to the white population and this is because though there is a fall in the birth and death rates, they still remain higher than that seen in the white population of the United States of America. (Curriculum Module on Aging and Ethnicity: African-American Elderly) There is not too much data available on the African-Americans, though it is believed that the African-American population is more prone to diseases like TB. Cirrhosis of the liver and diabetes than the white population and this is the main reason why the death rate in the African-American population remains higher than the white population. So the African-American living beyond the age of eighty five is considered a better survivor than the other age groups. (Chapter 13: The Resiliency of Older Ethnic Minorities)

Theories on Aging:

There are a few theories that are focused on the issue of the minority aging in the United States of America and that have attracted a lot of attention. The first theory is the double jeopardy hypothesis and this theory puts forward the concept that the elderly in the minority communities in the United States of America face double disadvantages in the society especially when one takes into consideration the factors of economic status and health. The elders in the minority communities in the United States of America are likely to face discrimination on the fact that they belong to a minority community and also because they belong to the aged group in a society that is considered ageist. Proper evaluations of this double jeopardy theory have found that this concept has only limited theoretical or empirical value. (Curriculum Module on Aging and Ethnicity: Perspectives on Minority Aging)

The theory however does have some usefulness as an advocacy concept. A concept that offers competition to this theory is the age as a leveler hypothesis. This theory puts forward the concept that the difference in status between the minority and the Anglo populations are reduced over the time period of a life time and this is particularly so, because both the group of minorities and Anglo populations face the same problems and the barriers in society that come from old age. Studies done on this concept have shown that the differences seen between the minorities and the Anglo populations dwindle with the passage of time and the onset of old age and therefore are more or less consistent with the predictions of the age as a leveler theory. This can be seen from the example of the studies showing that the differences betweens the minorities especially the Afro Americans and the Anglo communities in the context of income and health show a definite declining trend from the time of middle age right through old age.

There is however the trend in the contemporary research circles to disregard these theories as they are not satisfactory since there is the tendency to disregard the experience and effect of cultural factors. The new concept of diversity in aging is being considered in new light and the standard that utilizes the Euro-American model as the basis from which other populations deviate is no longer taken as valid. Diversity is considered to mean that not only the multi-ethnic perspective is taken into consideration but also there is the need to consider the many individual and social differences that are seen in relation with the process of aging. The many citizens from the minority communities that have now become an aged population have had to go through a unique history that typically include a large amount of family and social involvement, issues associated with immigrant status, as well as the great tolerance shown in the face of racism and institutionalized prejudice. These are the various assets and problems of the elders in the minority communities and have not been so far given proper attention by many of the mainstream social scientist and the diversity concept aims to rectify this. (Curriculum Module on Aging and Ethnicity: Perspectives on Minority Aging)

However the best model among the various theories on the perspective of minority aging is the not only takes in to consideration the process of aging but also goes beyond it and this is Convoy of Social Support as put forward by Kahn and Antonucci. This is because while looking at the older African-Americans it does take into consideration a life span approach in which their roles spread over their life span, their personal characteristics, situational characteristics, and support functions. It is wide enough to embrace the role theory, the continuity theory and the interaction theory. (Curriculum Module on Aging and Ethnicity: African-American Elderly)

Differences between African-Americans Elders and Other Ethnic Groups:

The major difference between the African-Americans elders and the other ethnic groups lies in the concept of social support. The African-Americans have a tendency to take on friends and look at them as an extended part of the family network. In such a network it is possible that these friends tend to provide expressive or instrumental support and this is quite different from what is seen in the case of older white Americans. For the older Anglo Americans if there is no family and no spouse then there is the tendency to have no one. Studies show that the Hispanics have a tendency to be more family based and thus tend to remain connected over long periods of time and it is quite possible that they live in extended family situations. The older African-Americans have shown a tendency to move away from this model and many researchers say they have what may be termed as the modified extended model in which many of the African-American families have incorporated on one side friends or on the other side relatives that remain a figment of their imaginations. (Curriculum Module on Aging and Ethnicity: African-American Elderly)

Research has also provided an insight into the influence of religious beliefs and faith that are quite prevalent in the communities of African-Americans in comparison…[continue]

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