Introducing ageing
Introducing ageing

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Introducing ageing

Studying the Fourth Age

Activity 8 is based on a study of people in the Fourth Age where the researchers found that the reality of people’s lives was much more complex than the rather stereotyped view of this stage in life that you encountered in the Laslett reading.

Activity 8 Living in the Fourth Age

Timing: Allow about 1 hour 30 minutes

Reading 2 - (a)

Click on the following link to read Reading 2 Hearing the voices of people with high support needs [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]  (Katz et al., 2013).

  • a.Copy and paste below, three sentences or parts of sentences from the article that do seem to fit well with Laslett’s version of the Fourth Age.
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There are several sentences you could have chosen including:

  • ‘Most participants emphasized that they were simply living day to day, and hoping that no further deterioration in their physical or mental health would occur (and in some cases dreading it)’
  • ‘Many participants were coping with several, often complex, health problems and described how their illnesses or disabilities had impacted on their daily lives’
  • ‘a retired professor was despondent that his memory appeared to be deteriorating markedly in his seventies’
  • a quote from June: ‘last time I went with the guild to the theatre it was absolute agony getting up and down from the seats… I like to do all these things, but I just can’t…’.

Reading 2 - (b)

  • b.Copy and paste below, some of the sources from the article of self-fulfilment that participants experienced.
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  • There are lots of sources of self-fulfilment mentioned throughout the article. Examples include: ‘meaningful relationships’ with families, friends and carers, including making new friends; attending day centres; watching television programmes on topics they were particularly interested in (like travel); listening to music; continuing membership of a church; accessing nature despite not going outside.

Reading 2 - (c)

  • c.In what ways did some people continue to make a contribution to society?
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  • Some of the examples mentioned included being a caller at bingo, making music, taking on formal roles within their community, such as committee membership, and producing theatrical shows.

Reading 2 in Activity 8 shows that, while being more frail and dependent usually reduces people’s scope to do things that they find fulfilling and to contribute to society, it does not do so absolutely. Clearly the people in Katz et al.’s 2013 study are living very different lives from Monty Meth, but it is not a simple story of decline and despair, as Laslett’s version of the Fourth Age might seem to suggest.

Neither is the boundary between being ‘Third Age’ and ‘Fourth Age’ as clear and as impermeable as it might sound. People may move in and out of the Fourth Age (Midwinter, 2005), for example if they are in remission from cancer. Some gerontologists have suggested that the trouble with Laslett’s idea of the Fourth Age is that he was not really interested in it – his focus was on making the case that people should recognise the existence and significance of the Third Age. This means that the Fourth Age works as a kind of black hole (Gilleard and Higgs, 2010). People fear it and focus on the Third Age and what it might mean to age well when you are healthy and independent. The Fourth Age then becomes a kind of residual space that sucks in everything that people do not want to think about. This means that people who are categorised, usually by other people, as in the Fourth Age can be seen as completely different and ‘other’ from most people and this can mean that they are treated less well (Grenier, 2012).

Part of the definition of ageism at the beginning of this learning guide was ‘Ageism allows the younger generation to see older people as different from themselves, thus they subtly cease to identify with their elders as human beings’ (Butler and Lewis, 1973, p. 35). You could argue, then, that Laslett’s theory of the Fourth Age contributes to ageist attitudes towards some older people, even though the theory of the Third Age helps to break down ageist attitudes towards others.

As Molly Davies and Reading 2 suggest, people who might be categorised as living in the Fourth Age remain recognisably the same as younger, healthier people. They may have greater needs for support than other people but they continue to be complex individuals with different histories, personalities, needs and preferences.


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