Elderhood – do we have it? Where has it gone?

Elderhood is said to be one of the 3 main developmental stages of human life. Childhood is the first stage. Adulthood is the second major stage of human life. Elderhood is the third.

Dr. Bill Thomas in his book, Second Wind, explores this stage. He states this stage is when accomplishments and satisfactions no longer impel, when the person is feeling a different set of priorities setting in, and physical changes occur as chronological age increases, a person steps into a new part of life. It is a time of like when life is re-imagined.

Reaching retirement age does not automatically mean you have entered Elderhood. As gerontologist Jennifer Inker explains, “Age is a social construct. Ageing has largely meant different things to different people in different epochs. Old age used to be for the few. Pre-industrial humans often didn’t make it to elderhood as life expectancy was much lower until the 18th century.”  If they lived long enough, “people went through three life stages,” says Inker. “These were childhood, adulthood, and elderhood.” In many societies, elders were seen as sources of knowledge and keepers of wisdom. Their experience was valued. In tribal societies they might know where to find food or how to best hunt animals.

Being an elder is a specific social role, one that requires new forms of maturity. Other cultures are much better at appreciating these roles. For example, Maori society has always been patriarchal, dominated by the elders. Even today, the Maori sponsored organisations such as the King movement, the Ratana and the Te Kooti religious movements, the New Zealand Maori Council, the Maori Women’s Welfare Leagues and others are organised with elders firmly to the fore in leadership and advisory roles. It is not only Maori, many Pacific Island and other cultures in New Zealand value eldership because of their wisdom and knowledge of the past and cultures.

Changing our perceptions about people entering this stage from being an object in need of care, to be seen as a resource that will benefit society is important when trying to combat ageism. It is about valuing the role that older people play in society. For more on this click here.

About Eve Williams

Eve Williams is the Content Developer and Social Media Administration for Eldernet. She is currently studying towards her Masters at the University of Canterbury. She has a passion for learning new things.