Each new edition of a textbook provides authors fresh opportunities to sharpen, update, and extend the material, and to include issues that have come to the forefront in recent years. This edition reflects augmented material and significant new topics, while retaining its focus on the life course and sociological aspects of aging. In this edition, we continue to reflect newer scholarship, including more attention to global aging and to the significant changes now underway in population aging in the United States and throughout the world. The resulting 12-chapter book is well attuned to most academic schedules for a “one chapter a week” reading assignment.
In presenting knowledge about aging in social context, we focus on five majors themes. The first theme is the focus on the life course. This perspective informs our discussions of the movement of people and cohorts through age-related stages and transitions in all major social institutions and provides an organizing theme for new research and theoretical developments in the field of gerontology.
A second major theme is the micro/macro distinction in understanding aging as a social phenomenon. Aging of individuals occurs within layers of social context from the family to the political and economic systems. Understanding the complex dynamics among these multiple levels is key to a deep understanding of aging processes and outcomes. The third key theme is social construction. With this approach, which is described in Chapter 1 and revisited in other chapters, we highlight how aging is much more than an individual journey through time; aging is a complex social process that influences each of us on the journey and is, in turn, influenced collectively by those making the journey. The fourth distinguishing characteristic of this text is its emphasis on the diversity of the older population; this stereotype-busting focus carries throughout all of the chapters, emphasizing how notably the experience of aging is affected by social characteristics. Material highlights diversity by gender, social class, race/ethnicity, generation, and even age differences within the older population.
The final key theme is integrating the learning of theory with content about aging. Reading theories without much substance attached is challenging for many students. Instead, scattered throughout our chapters are “Applying Theory” segments that describe a particular theory as it relates to content such as health care, family caregiving, or retirement. In this way the theory is grounded with some application that makes it more relevant and memorable.