GENDER DIFFERENCES IN AGING

gender issues in psychology  GENDER DIFFERENCES IN AGING:

Before moving on to a discussion of gender differences in aging, let’s have a look at some other psychological aspects of aging. Old age is the period of “Ego integrity versus despair”, as in Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development. This is the last stage in Erikson’s eight-stage model. People may be happy and satisfied with the way they spent their life. They are content with their achievements, and indulge into productive work. On the other hand they may be experiencing frustration and depression over the way theit life was spent.

Work

Research shows that older people can perform as good as young people; they can even perform better than them. Older people work with better precision and care. However they are slower than the youth. But then they make fewer mistakes too.

Gender differences in aging:

Since women have a higher longevity than men, more women than men experience problems associated with aging. More women than men enter the category of the “oldest of the old”. More women than men have arthritis, and the subsequent restricted mobility, pain, and dependence. Menopause and Osteoporosis cause problems to many women. Also women are at a much higher risk of Osteoporosis i.e., brittle bones. The presence of Osteoporosis causes bone fractures in many women which means prolonged bed rest and lack of physical activity. The risk of Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) is about the same in older men and women, which used to be much less in pre-menopausal age. However the rate of female CHD patients is less than male patients.

Marriage and Loneliness

Usually more women than men face loneliness in late adulthood; the primary reason being the gender difference in longevity i.e., men die before women do. Also in societies like ours, wives are generally much younger than their husbands and they live in widowhood for many years. Fewer men than women experience widowhood and its impact.

Marriage

Being married and the type of marriage one has is linked with health. People who have had a happy marriage enjoy better health. There are gender differences in this regard. For men being married and having a companion may be sufficient even if the marriage had been turbulent. In case of females the quality of marriage matters a lot. If the marriage is and has been turbulent, then it has serious effects on their health

Empty Nest Syndrome

Men and women may react differently to their empty nest i.e., life after the children have left home. However a number of variables determine a person’s reaction to this phase of life. If all the children leave home within a span of one or two years, the impact is deeper; and if takes 5-10 years parents adjust better and less distress is felt. Also, if they leave at the right time, then the parents are better prepared for it. A number of studies have consistently revealed that midlife women whose children had left were more satisfied and happier than the midlife women shoes children were still with them (Neugarten, 1970; Turner, 1982). If the husband and wife have a caring attitude towards each other than the Empty nest does not cause any distress. In fact they may get emotionally closer to each other.

The type of marriage also determines a couples’ reaction to their Empty nest. If it were a marriage that remained intact because of children, then there is a likelihood that it may break. Although generally mothers seem to be affected more by a home without children, the situation may bring relief from the “chronic emergency of parenthood” (Cooper and Gutmann, 1987). The Empty nest phase may be different for women who had not foreseen this. Women who had not reorganized their lives in order to prepare for it find it hard (Targ, 1979). Some men also find it hard to cope with the empty nest. These are the fathers who regret not having spent more time with their children (Rubin, 1979). If the mothers are working, especially full time, they feel little or no stress. It has been reported that no effects of empty nest were found on the psychological health of employed mothers; their stress was increased on cutting back on employment and was decreased on going back to full time work (Wethington, and Kessler, 1989). The case may be different in case of males. When stress at various stages of men’s lives was compared, it was found that they were most likely to report health-related stress at the empty nest stage (Chiriboga, 1997). If the mother is an autonomous mother, the empty nest may be a pleasant experience for her. Autonomous mothers are the ones who generally have a higher self esteem and who feel in control of their lives. Such mothers enjoy the maturity, growth, success, achievement and independent existence of their children as individuals in their own right. They enjoy communicating with them at adult level and doing things with them. In case of “coupled mothers” the case may be different. These are the mothers who feel that they and their children are one and the same thing, the children being their extensions. All their life’s activities revolved around the children. Their self esteem and feeling of control over their lives is lower than the autonomous mothers. The empty nest experience may be quite difficult and painful for them. The coupled mothers have a higher likelihood of experiencing anxiety and depression.

Personality

The way old men and women perceive or describe themselves may be different. As compared to what they were like in youth, many older women perceive themselves to be more capable of solving problems, more assertive, less dependent, and more authoritative at home now. In case of older men, many of them perceive themselves as more nurturant, cooperative and less dominant in old age (Bengston, Reedy and Gordon, 1985). Older men experience a lack of control and power after retirement. If the self concept and self esteem are hurt or lowered, different reaction patterns may be seen. More women less than 80 years of age may feel depressed and more men may abuse alcohol (NIH Consensus Development Conference, 1991).

Financial Problems

Most retired people may experience financial problems. Especially in a culture like ours, where the parents have to look after children’s lives even when they have grown up the financial pressures may cause psychological as well as physical ailments. In case of women, dependence is higher, because most women in out culture are house wives and they have to look up to the husband’s pension or to their children. The older people have some additional expenses if they are suffering from some chronic illness. If the pension is not enough and no additional resources are available, life becomes tough for both men and women. In case of a single or widowed man, old age is tougher than a single or widowed woman. Since women are more industrious and equipped with household skills, they can manage life in limited resources better than men in similar circumstances. In summary it can be seen that:

  • Some physiological and psychological problems are common to both men and women.
  • Some problems are found more in women.
  • There are gender differences in the way people react to changing life situations.
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