Aging is the process of cognitive and physical change a person’s undergoes as they grow older. During late adulthood, which Berk (2014) categorizes as starting at the age of 65, is defined as being a period when people “adjust to retirement, begin to show a decline in physical health and strength, and often death of a spouse” (Berk, 2014, p.8). For this week’s discussion we are reflecting on aging cross-culturally. The two countries that I will be comparing are China and The United States. In Asian cultures, which are more collectivistic (North & Fiske, 2015), the elderly are viewed as having wisdom, and life experience and therefore are highly revered and respected (Films Media Group, 1998) In the United States, which is a more individualistic (North & Fiske, 2015), aging is viewed differently. Emphasis is placed on youth and beauty, and less on aging as aging is viewed as a time of “decline and infirmity” (Films Media Group, 1998). In the United States, we often see advertisements in magazines, on the web, social media, for ways to reverse the signs of aging. Invasive treatments such as plastic surgery and non-invasive treatments such as cool sculpting and facials are promoted all the time on television. It’s interesting how in one culture, being “old” is viewed as something good and should be highly respected whereas in the other it’s dreaded. Perhaps a look into lifestyle habits such as diet, exercise, and the types of leisure activities one engages in, have to do with the way that aging is viewed in Asian cultures and Western cultures, specifically the United States. Though China was not mentioned in Berk’s (2014) analysis of life expectancy, it’s no wonder that Japan, another Asian country, takes the lead in average life expectancy, when compared to the United States which ranked the lowest in Figure 17.1.
A similarity between both countries are that they are highly industrialized, which is mainly in part due to globalization (North & Fiske,2015); due to this industrialization there has been an increase in elder abuse and abandonment (North & Fiske, 2015) From family friends who work in law, I have heard about nursing home abuse stories and it is quite disheartening. I have seen it portrayed in the media as well. As for differences between the countries, a difference between the U.S. and China is that there is a higher rate of older adults living with their children (North & Fiske, 2015). Also, the concept of xiao, meaning filial piety in East Asian cultures, “impels younger people to respect, obey, care for, and maintain contact with their elders—a concept that has been applied to research on attitudes toward the aged in China” (North & Fiske, 2015). Something I found interesting was the fact that Chinese seniors outperform American seniors in memory-oriented tasks (North & Fiske, 2015).
Last, in regards to differences, as I mentioned previously, there is a focus on interdependence in East Asian culture where as in the United States the focus is on individualism. As indicated in the video, seniors are now more than ever in the United States leading full, productive lives and are engaging in a variety of social and physical activities. So, really the stereotype that the elderly are sedentary, not quick-witted, or need assistance with living does not hold true. Of course, aging is inevitable, but seniors are now more than ever are being proactive in their late adult years. They even are participating in professional development opportunities such as the one presented in the video called The Elderhostel where senior citizens partake in a college-level intensive course over a span of several weeks. The professor in the video stated that more often than not he observes that seniors are more able to comprehend and synthesize the material better because of the knowledge and experience that they have accrued over their lifetime; that they bring more to the table so to speak than younger adults or teens and that they are at an advantage (Films Media Group, 1998).
Berk, L. E. (2014). Development through the lifespan (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.
Films Media Group. (Producer). (1998). Accepting life’s transitions [Video file]. Part of the Series: Creating All-Around Wellness|Total Health: Achieving your Personal Best. New York, N.Y.
North, M. S., & Fiske, S. T. (2015). Modern attitudes toward older adults in the aging world: A cross-cultural meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 141(5), 993–1021. doi:10.1037/a0039469