In Russia, the age of young people was officially raised from 30 to 35. In 2019, the Ministry of Health discussed the possibility of banning the sale of alcohol and cigarettes to people under the age of 21. If we recall the public attitude towards "active old age" and the attention of the media to the topic of ageism, then the main "age" tendencies will become quite obvious. The boundaries of childhood, adolescence and maturity are becoming less and less unambiguous, and old age is being pushed back.
What are we talking about when we talk about age?
It is interesting that the importance of age stratification began to be given relatively recently - just a couple of centuries ago. In the Middle Ages, even educated people often had no idea how old they were. The fact is that society could not formulate any expectations for age groups, the difference between a noble person and a commoner was too strong. The order of a person's life was determined by his social status and the function he performed in society, and not by the number of years he lived. However, even today it may not be so easy to answer a trivial question about age.
“A person of eighteen can say“I’m an adult,”or maybe“I’m a student.”He can say this:“I’m only 18 years old, but I’m disappointed, I feel that I’m tired of everything in this life,”says Olga Karabanova. Doctor of Psychology, Head of the Department of Developmental Psychology, Faculty of Psychology, Lomonosov Moscow State University Age is also a question of legal status, occupation, well-being, emotional state. Experts believe that every person has at least four ages: chronological, organic, social and psychological, and they usually do not coincide with each other.
Chronological age is the one indicated in the documents (it is also called passport or calendar). Organic reflects the level of physiological development, including the rate of age-related changes associated, for example, with puberty or aging. Social age is determined by comparing the social achievements of an individual (for example, career and marital status) with the average values for these parameters in different age groups. And finally, psychological age, associated with the level of mental development and maturity of a person's cognitive abilities.
Old and young
"The more developed a society, the greater the chance that older people are valuable to it, including in economic terms. I think that ageism has now been overcome to a lesser extent compared to other forms of infringement," says the scientific director of the Center for Research on Contemporary Childhood Institute of Education, Higher School of Economics, Doctor of Psychology, Professor Katerina Polivanova.
In the process of the historical development of society, both old age and childhood were subjected to severe discrimination, including gerontocide and infanticide (recall the biblical story about the beating of babies). Distant echoes of these sentiments live in the culture today. Ageism is nothing new in the social sciences either. According to Olga Karabanova, it has been actively used in social sciences since the late 60s. Let's try to figure out how this system works.
From a psychological point of view, attitudes towards older people in society can be based on three main scenarios. The first is a decline scenario, when old age is associated exclusively with regression, weakness and loss of civil rights. It was this scenario, which prevailed for many hundreds of years, and gave rise to gerontophobia, which is based on the fear of death. The second scenario, the most common in the 19th and 20th centuries, postulated old age as a regression with the ability to compensate for losses with the help of external devices - for example, glasses or hearing aids, and a system of special social crutches. The third scenario is progressive, in which old age is associated with wisdom, intelligence and experience, and it is assumed that older people can not only keep up with innovations and changes in society, but also be their source.
The perception of childhood in society has also changed in stages. Olga Karabanova says that at the initial, "adult-centric" stage, children were perceived as small adults, incapable of independent life and deprived of most of the virtues characteristic of real adults. Starting with the Renaissance (and thanks to the increased importance of education), childhood becomes a separate stage in life, preparation and rehearsal for real, adult life. It was only in the 19th and 20th centuries that childhood was recognized as a unique life span, and childhood experiences and children's feelings became important for adults. “A long time ago, when people chased mammoths, there were ages that society needed to survive, and there were ages that were not important. Children and old people could be dispensed with, they were not needed for survival., - says Katerina Polivanova.
When does old age come?
"Psychological age is a sociocultural category, this is our idea of age. Twenty years is childhood? Youth? Maturity? This categorization will be determined by a specific historical era, social and cultural conditions of life," says Olga Karabanova.
The age that society perceives as old age is influenced by a large number of factors, primarily, of course, life expectancy, the ability to be active both physically and socially, fertility, and financial stability.
“Modern elderly people are growing up, entering old age in different conditions than when they were children, many of them have the opportunity to live actively, but they still reproduce the model of their parents' behavior, - explains Katerina Polivanova., "I don't need a manicure", "I have a cheaper hairdresser." It is necessary that several generations change, then the elderly will learn to enjoy life."
Olga Karabanova is sure that the change in public perceptions of age is directly related to the development of the institution of education. The more time a person spends on mastering a profession, the longer his youth lasts, and the need to constantly improve existing skills and acquire new ones associated with the concept of lifelong education significantly postpones old age.
“Today, from a psychological point of view, people talk about the beginning of aging closer to the age of 75. The current historical era is characterized by the breakdown of our previous ideas about chronology. Society is now very dynamic,” says Olga Karabanova.
How is a child like?
"In connection with the emergence of the information society and a new graphic-visual culture, we are witnessing the disintegration of the social structure of childhood. This is due to the fact that today information is becoming publicly available, the form of information transmission is changing," says Olga Karabanova.
If earlier the main source of information was the word - first oral, then written, now visual culture is gaining more and more importance. Unlike a word, which requires a high level of development of verbal and logical thinking and therefore is not always accessible to children, the image is intuitively understandable from the first years of life. Thanks to the Internet and this trend, adults are no longer an indispensable source of knowledge about the world for a child (while remaining a guarantor of safety, those who can satisfy the need for emotional closeness and help organize the information received).
Modern children do not always resemble our abstract ideas about childhood. Traditionally, initiation into adulthood has been associated with the discovery of new areas of knowledge. The modern child has instant access to almost any knowledge and feels the right to loudly and confidently express his opinion on a huge number of issues that were previously inaccessible to him. In addition, children often acquire the status of the main experts in the family on many issues (for example, related to computers and other electronics).
Cartoons, games and adventure literature are no longer an attribute of childhood and often interest adults much more than children.
"We ask: why is the trend of infantilization widespread today, why is there a stable attitude toward refusing to grow up? Where does the cult of" childishness "come from? Olga Karabanova.
So, what is next?
And then - an increase in life expectancy, at least up to 120 years.
"Life as a biological phenomenon resembles a sinusoid: there is a period of childhood, then active maturity - adulthood, then biological aging and human withdrawal. In order to increase life expectancy, one of the periods cannot be artificially increased. An increase in life expectancy is not a lengthening of the aging process, in a biological sense, this is an expansion of the entire sinusoid, "said Veronika Skvortsova (now the head of the Federal Medical and Biological Agency) in 2018, while serving as Minister of Health of the Russian Federation.
And childhood, maturity, and old age will naturally become longer. For example, childhood in the long run can last up to thirty, including because it takes a lot of time to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to feel confident in modern society.
"The fragmentation by age and the prescription for each age to behave in a certain way is slowly crumbling. The age groups are less divided. There is no such thing that the twenty with the twenty, and the forty with the forty. There are physiological norms, and then very vague ones, which the doctor checks, for example, in connection with the beginning of puberty. And there are legal norms, what a person at what age has the right to do and what he is responsible for. Everything else is rather vague, although we continue to use it. Today we treat age quite pragmatically. You run faster., and you are slower. You are older, and you are younger. This can only matter in a certain situation, "says Katerina Polivanova.
The pace of these changes differs depending on the standard of living and proximity to financial and cultural centers, but already now the boundaries of age divisions are noticeably spreading. We can only follow the changes and remember that, no matter how old a person is, first of all he is a person and age is not a reason for a bias.