Remembering My Hat

8th May 2013

Third Age / Fourth Age: A collection of resources

In the Ageing block of K118 (Perspectives on Health and Social Care) one of the overarching concepts we want students to understand is the notion of the Third Age and the Fourth Age, first popularised by Peter Laslett in his book ‘A Fresh Map of Life: The Emergence of the Third Age’. We’ll then go on to critique it, but before we can do that, they need to understand what it means. Since I’m writing the first week’s work of this block, it falls to me to do that explaining. I’m collecting here some possible resources to help me do that, in case they are also of interest to other people.

Peter Laslett’s book is available on google books, which is better than nothing, although the page you really want is always the one that’s cut out. Luckily for me it’s also in the OU library, so I’m off to pick that up later today. Either the first chapter or one of the later ones looks possible for my use, probably edited down a little.

(cc) EU Social

Book reviews from journals (one of my favourite shortcuts to getting a handle on a literature):

  • Raymond Illsley (1991). Ageing and Society, 11, pp 85­86 doi:10.1017/ S0144686X00003871
  • Jacob S. Siegel Population and Development Review Vol. 16, No. 2 (Jun., 1990), pp. 363-367
  • COLEMAN, PG. BRITISH JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGY; FEB, 1992; 83; p153-p157 (This one is an Essay Review which also discusses related books).

Useful looking commentary:

Gilleard, C., & Higgs, P. (2002). The third age: class, cohort or generation? Ageing & Society, 22(03), 369-382:

ABSTRACT: In this paper we consider some of the ways that the third age can be thought about and studied. Taking the work of Peter Laslett as our key source, we explore his ‘aspirational’ approach toward redefining post-working life and look at some of its limitations as both definition and explanation. There is a need for a more sociologically informed approach to the third age, and we outline three potentially important structures that might better explain it – class, birth cohort, and generation. Whilst it might seem attractive to see the third age as a class-determined status, based on the material and social advantages accruing to people who have retired from well-paid positions in society, the historical period in which the third age has emerged makes this explanation less than adequate. Equally a cohort-based explanation, locating the third age in the ‘ageing’ of the birth cohort known as the baby boom generation, fails fully to capture the pervasiveness and irreversibility of the cultural change that has shaped not just one but a sequence of cohorts beginning with those born in the years just before World War II. Instead, we argue for a generational framework in understanding the third age, drawing upon Mannheim rather than Marx as the more promising guide in this area.

International Journal of Ageing and Later Life 2007 2(2): 13–30. The Third Age and the Baby Boomers: Two Approaches to the Social Structuring of Later Life BY CHRIS GILLEARD AND PAUL HIGGS

EXTRACT: Laslett confounded individual development, cohort and period, making the third age seem a phenomenon of personal achievement as much as social transformation. Each of these ingredients is problematic. First, as Thane has pointed out, delineating the various stages of life has a long history and the distinction between a “green” old age and a “frail” old age goes back at least to medieval times (Thane 2003). Secondly, Laslett’s emphasis upon demographic indicators leads him to seek to “date” the emergence of the third age at the point when the majority of a particular birth cohort can expect to reach the age of seventy (Laslett 1989). This “fact” defines the historical period that determines the emergence of a third age. Taken together, this amalgam of individual development, history and demography, though superficially seductive, fails to provide a convincing analysis of the cultural and social transformation of later life that situates it more firmly within post-war consumer culture. This failure of social and cultural analysis leads Laslett to become preoccupied with the moral imperative for older people to become “true” third agers (Laslett 1989)

(cc) Jim Linwood

This article by Peter Laslett, which looked very promising as a summary of the book, is not suitable for my purposes, being too much about demography. I note it here so I remember not to think I’ve found it again:

  • Peter Laslett (1987). The Emergence of the Third Age. Ageing and Society, 7, pp 133­160 doi:10.1017/S0144686X00012538

ERIC MIDWINTER (2005). How many people are there in the third age?. Ageing
and Society, 25, pp 9­18 doi:10.1017/S0144686X04002922

EXTRACT: There has been controversy over Peter Laslett’s designation of a Fourth Age or dependent older age. The question marks over the Fourth Age were that people tended to move in and out of the category, that is, theywere sometimes temporarily incapacitated, while ‘dependence’ is, sadly, a feature in other stages of life. It was also deemed to throw up just that kind of characterisation of older age that has for so long jaundiced public opinion on the very subject of oldness. It should be properly acknowledged that there is another gerontological dispute as to whether or not the extension of people’s lives has been procured at the expense of longer phases of decrepitude and disability. Obviously enough, the ideal is to have an extremely lengthy Third Age and an extremely short Fourth Age – achieving the aphorism of the former manager of Liverpool FC, Bill Shankly, who wished ‘to die healthy’

Probably too hard for Level 1,  and not for this week’s work anyway, but in case it is useful to a colleague:

CHRIS GILLEARD and PAUL HIGGS (1998). Old people as users and consumers of healthcare: a third age rhetoric for a fourth
age reality?. Ageing and Society, 18, pp 233­248

More to follow, probably.


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