Unit 12: Introduction

Culture and Human Development: Adulthood and Old Age

Center for Cross-Cultural Research
Western Washington University

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It is common knowledge that people of different ages are not viewed or treated the same way throughout the world.  Some societies, such as the United States, are often mentioned as being youth-oriented ("Never trust anyone over 30").  Indeed the cosmetics industry is huge in the U.S., and facelifts and liposuction are among the most sought-after surgical procedures in the country.  In a recent essay published in Time magazine, humorist/author Garrison Keillor had this to say: "Turning 60 is darned awkward in America.  We glorify carefree youth and feel sheepish if our abdomen is not hard enough to crack walnuts on and our heart is not warm and smiley."  While this may be true in America, it may not be true everywhere.  Or is it?  Contrast this with cultures that, allegedly and by popular opinion at least, pay much more attention to their elders than to youths, and in fact revere elders for their wisdom and guidance on important topics.

Thus, this unit contains chapters that are concerned with the middle- to later-years in life-span human development.  While only two chapters at present are included, several that are expected in the near future will focus on numerous questions that interest developmental psychologists who study the latter half of the human being's life span and how cultures mediates these relationships.  Those who are interested in pursuing careers in this area may even consider joining what appears to be a promising new field of research and application:  Cross-Cultural Gerontology.  A number of people identify with a job description such as this, and the field is bound to grow.

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