Intergenerational Communication Across the Life Span

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The stereotype activation model of intergenerational communication. From Interpersonal Communication in Older Adulthood p. Hummert, J. Wiemann, and J. Nussbaum Eds.


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Reprinted with permission of Sage Publications. Presumably, younger people who have opportunities for frequent contact with the elderly are able to form more complex schemas. In addition, if that contact is positive rather than negative, they would be likely to form richer and more positive schemas about older people and aging. Putting these three aspects of the perceiver's self-system together, the model predicts that young people with low levels of cognitive complexity who experience low-quality contact will be more likely to negatively stereotype an older person.

Of course, the activation of a particular stereotype is also related to certain characteristics of the older individual. Among the important cues that prompt a stereotype are the older person's physical characteristics. These include obvious physical characteristics such as grey hair and wrinkles, or evidence of infirmity such as a walking stick.

Stereotypes can also be activated by more subtle cues in a person's appearance such as outmoded and old-fashioned clothes. In addition, the context of the intergenerational contact provides cues that may elicit either negative or positive stereotypes. Some situations, such as nursing homes for the elderly, are negatively age salient and the model suggests that older people in such contexts are more likely to be negatively stereotyped. Like the communication predicament of aging model, the stereotype-activation model is designed to explain intergenerational communication.

The model predicts that if the net result of the perceiver's self-system, of characteristics of the older person, combined with a negatively age salient context, is negative stereotyping, then the younger person's speech and communication behavior will align with the activated stereotype, which is labeled age-adapted speech. This is likely to occur regardless of the older individual's particular characteristics or communication needs or both.

One example of age-adapted speech is patronizing speech directed toward the elderly. This conceptualization stresses that positive stereotypes of elderly people are also part of our cognitive repertoires. Following the predictions of the model suggests that the activation of positive stereotypes may be more likely given the following conditions; perceiver is middle aged or elderly; perceiver has high-quality contact with older people; perceiver has high cognitive complexity; the older person is young-old, healthy, fashionable, or well groomed; and if the situation is positively age salient.

In this case positive stereotype activation is followed with speech that is not age adapted and is termed normal adult speech. This theory is attractive because it can operate at different levels of analysis: interindividual, community, and society, and also because it is comprehensive because it aids understanding of the interplay between interpersonal communication and macrosocial structures and macroprocesses.

So, for example, it helps us view the processes described in the CPM as both influenced by, and also as constitutive of, the larger social picture. Writing in Communication Yearbook, Banks and Riley argue for a structuration theory view of communication. Throughout the ensuing chapters we discuss various components of intergenerational communication and relationships in our society.

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In our epilogue, we bring these various viewpoints together to argue that structuration theory provides a holistic and macroview that allows us to integrate a multiplicity of different research findings and theories. The theory of structuration examines the fourfold link between the individual and society, and social stability versus social change. A crucial tenet of Gidden's theory is the duality of structure. This refers to the process whereby individuals in everyday social interaction employ readily available rules and resources provided by a social system, and in so doing actively reproduce that social system.

Giddens maintains that: " In and through their activities, agents reproduce the conditions that make these activities possible" p. In structuration theory, the dualism of individual and society are reconceptualized as the duality of agency and structure. Structure, in Giddens' sense, consists of social rules and resources.

Rules are similar to action schema or norms operating in various social contexts. Rules are not proscribed as such, but are more like habitual procedures, they often constitute knowledge that is shared by persons in given situations. Resources are 20 CHAPTER 1 the ability of social actors to command authority over the social and material conditions of others social, authoritative, and allocative resources. Agents can use rules and draw on resources to carry out social action.

Agency refers to action by people. Of course, one important agency is social interaction-communication, and this is where the primary interest of the book lies. Action is governed by intentionality; thus we reflect on and think about our actions as group members or as individuals and think about the consequences of such reflexive monitoring. Partly through reflexive monitoring we are able to explain our actions and discursively account for them as a continuous stream of reasoned action discursive consciousness.

Communication researchers draw on participant's reflexive monitoring and discursive consciousness when they distribute questionnaires and conduct interviews to collect self-report data. Discursive consciousness is distinguished from practical consciousness, which includes automatic day-to-day routines, taken-for-granted behavior, and so forth, that is not readily available to our consciousness and is thus relatively non accountable. Researchers also attempt to discover people's practical consciousnesses and to use different methodologies to do so. For example, by analysing discourse, researchers may find evidence of underlying processes that participants are not necessarily consciously aware of, but are using in talk.

These underlying routines, assumptions, and so forth may be crucial for communicatively structuring relatonships throughout the life span. Action is governed by the fact that we are rational; we do not simply account for our behavior, we also plan future behavior and make adjustments in order to fulfill our goals. Of course, action is motivated, but often the motivation for our actions is not consciously available to us and is often motivated by unacknowledged conditions.

Again, communication researchers seek to reveal the unacknowledged but socially shared conditions that govern communication. Communication researchers can focus on communication as action to reveal underlying rules and resources, and to examine the ways in which rules and resources actively structure their relationships between individuals, groups, communities, and societies. Society does not necessarily influence communication in a top-down fashion. One of the most useful aspects of Giddens' theory is that it demonstrates that society and our social institutions are as much bottom-up as they are top-down.

In other words, it is people, using available rules and resources for action, who structure society as a whole. Action is also contextually bound or situated in time and space, and is subject to a number of enablements and constraints. According to structuration theory, the first action constraint is temporality. In terms of intergenerational relationships, chapter 2 seeks to uncover some of these features by taking temporal and spatial look at the contexts of intergenerational interaction. Action is constrained by the differential distribution of knowledge and resources, and may feed back into the system and eventuate in unintended consequences, which were not anticipated or intended by the original action.

Structuration theory recognizes that structuration occurs in interaction that involves the interplay of three major modalities or dimensions of structure. These are: a interpreting or understanding—the production of interaction is meaningful, b a sense of morality or proper conduct—we judge and take part in a moral order, and c a sense of power in action—relations of power are operating in interaction.

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Every act draws on these three modalities to some extent and the modalities call on three institutional orders found in historical systems: signification language and other meaningful codes , domination resource allocation and authorization , and legitimation religion, ethics, and the law.

The structural properties of social systems are said to be both enabling and constraining. The social structure provides both constraints for behavior and resources for social action. Because social norms may be used creatively in microinteractions, they may be transformed by actors. The final aspect of structuration theory discussed in this chapter is the notion of contradictions, which are fundamental to change in social structures.

Contradictions exist when fundamental characteristics of the structuring processes that reproduce a system oppose each other. Contradictions arise because of the integration of the different elements in a system, and they supply fault lines along which change can occur. If the contradictions are recognized, the fault lines can open up, conflict can occur, and the system can change. According to Poole, Seibold, and McPhee , when analyzing the contradictions in a system we must look for: fundamental structuring principles: 1 in opposition to each other; 2 organized around the structuration of the practice in question; 3 implicated in the reproduction of the system; 4 giving rise to consequences that may cause conflicts, or at least, spur group activities to hide, repair, or repress reactions to the consequences; and 5 serving as a nexus and generative principle of multiple empirical contradictions, p.

According to Giddens , there are three limiting conditions that govern the emergence of conflict: the opacity of action i. The power of structuration theory lies not so much in its predictive potential, but in its unifying and clarifying potential. It allows us an ontological template with which to understand, using one framework, how the entirety of a particular phenomenon may work together to produce and to reproduce certain effects.

To our knowledge, structuration theory has not been applied to age relations in modern society. Therefore, by examining intergenerational interactions we should gain insight into wider social relationships between younger and older people, and into practices that may be long established and continually reproduced in our society.

For example, according to structuration theory, the rules and resources employed by younger and older people in their interactions reproduce the very conditions that brought them about in the first place. Our tasks in the following chapters are to explore and outline exactly what those rules and resources are, and to explore the processes by which not only reproduction occurs, but also to uncover some of the contradictions that reinforce the status quo as well as to consider the very problematic questions of how and along what lines change can occur.

Chapter 2 describes some of the constraints of intergenerational interaction by discussing how the notion of age groups and age-group boundaries has been instantiated and legitimated through recent history. Points of contact for younger and older people in our society are examined, as are the typical community contexts in which younger and older people usually meet and interact. This raises important questions such as: Do our social institutions promote or reduce these points of contact, and what are the consequences of this?


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Chapter 2 finishes by discussing the degree and influence of mediated-intergenerational contact. Apart from social structure and institutional organization of young and old people, what are the rules and resources that young and old people draw on when they interact? In other words, what are our attitudes, beliefs, and stereotypes about age and older people, and what is the nature of our stereotypes of old age and youth?

What are the social norms that provide resources for interacting in, and accounting for, intergenerational communication? These concerns begin to be addressed in chapter 3, which examines perceptions, beliefs, and stereotypes of older people, as well as the limited information we have regarding beliefs and stereotypes of younger people. This discussion continues into chapter 4, which focuses on beliefs about language and communication and how these emerge in action—such as when evaluating older and younger speakers. Having provided the essential foundation for understanding the nature of perceptions and evaluations of intergenerational communication in earlier chapters, chapter 4 considers language and communication development in older adulthood, describing a range of language and communication resources—skills and abilities—and how these change and develop as we age.

Intergenerational Communication Across the Life Span

This sets the stage for chapter 5, which continues and develops the themes of stereotyping, perceptions, and expectations to examine the links between stereotypes, evaluations, and language and communication as action. This chapter is the first of two that discuss certain speech modifications typical of intergenerational communication.

Patterns of intergenerational-communication accommodation, particularly underand overaccommodation, are central to these two chapters. These chapters also attempt to elucidate the constraints and enablements of such communication in various contexts and also examine the unintended consequences in producing and reproducing intergenerational relationships.

Identity, particularly age identity, becomes the specific focus for chapter 7, in which life-span perspectives are used to examine identity development through aging, and how age identity may be realized through discourse. Here we consider younger and older people's self-categorizations as old or young, and the ways in which people may defend against negative categorizations and identities.

Again then, at various levels of analysis, this chapter tries to reveal how people use rules and resources in everyday communication, to examine some of the contraints and enablements of this, as well as to examine how such action feeds back to influence both intended and unintended consequences. Chapter 8 signals a switch of focus because we begin here to consider relationships more explicitly.

Much research about intergenerational com- 24 CHAPTER 1 munication and language strategies has focused on strangers, and we begin here to ask whether or not the theory and research findings discussed in the first part of the book can be generalized to conversations between people who have longer term relationships, particularly familial relationships. Chapter 8 turns to the relationships between adult children and their elderly parents, relationships that have been the focus of a great deal of recent interest from the general public, as well as from researchers.

As demographic and social changes make their mark on our society, relationships and role negotiations between adult children and elderly parents have also demanded adjustment and change, and we discuss the ramifications of this in this chapter. Recent research and theory concerned with gender, power, and caring in the context of this relationship suggests that communication researchers' theoretical perspectives, such as those outlined in chapter 1 have significant contributions to make to relational research in the future.

Chapter 9 considers grandparents and grandchildren, relationships that are perhaps undergoing some major changes concurrent with changes in life expectancy, health, and activity of older people. Among other things, this chapter discusses different types of grandparenting and the resources that grandparents may command and provide in family systems.

Again, the chapter makes connections with the theory outlined in chapter 1. Chapter 10 reviews research about the so-called "sandwich generation"—those mostly middle-aged people who can be construed as brokers positioned between older adults and younger generations. This is thought to place a number of demands on the sandwich generation, as for example, some middle-aged adults are simultaneously adjusting to their own aging, coping with the ill-health of aging parents, and supervising the growth and development of their own children.

In this regard, the communication predicament model comes into focus and the precursers, range, and consequences of age-adapted speech in families across the lifespan is considered. Chapter 11 returns to the burgeoning research interest in older people and intergenerational relationships in community contexts, and discusses intergerational contexts in medicine, education, adult day care, and intergenerational friendships.

Again then, the applicability and explanatory power of the theoretical perspectives is considered. The last three chapters begin to take a more macro-social view. Both inter-individual, intergenerational conflict and then intergenerational conflict as reflected through media representations are considered in chapter This continues in chapter 13 with discussion of political issues, particularly intergenerational competition for economic resources.

Then, chapter 14 signals another change of direction as it turns to examine perspectives on age and intergenerational communication in other cultures, with a focus on Eastern contexts. Research designed to explore perceptions of age and intergenerational communication in Eastern nations is reviewed. The Epilogue pulls together the main themes of the book for an overall summary of our perspective about intergenerational communication and points to some major avenues for further research.

Having our perspective in overview, the Epilogue draws on a combination of social identity and structuration theory to explore evidence and possibilities for social change. Of primary interest is what happens when people of vastly different ages and with diverse life experiences meet and talk. Accordingly, some chapters focus at a microlevel to examine, for example, particular conversational strategies characteristic of intergenerational talk. Other chapters, such as this one, focus more at macro-levels to look at the wider contexts in which such microinteractions take place.

In the spirit of Giddens' theory of structuration, the issues and questions we consider include historical precedent, as a backdrop to the changing structure and patterns of intergenerational contact, in modern societies across time and space. In very crucial ways, these patterns are integral to what actually takes place when younger and older people come into contact with each other and talk, and there may be less opportunity for this to happen than we first think.

In Giddens' words: "a person's daily routine activities One of the aims of this chapter is to explore the points at which the paths of younger and older people cross. Beside the sheer reality of social opportunities for contact, it is people's perceptions of the structure and pattern of modern intergenerational contact that comprise, in Gidden's terminology, rules and resources for conversations both about and with people of different generations. Attitudes and beliefs are influenced by perceptions and not necessarily by any objective reality.

For example, an often-expressed and unquestioned assumption is that people are better off when socializing with those who are their own age, and we also assume that people gain the most pleasure from peer interactions. How did these taken-fopgranted assumptions evolve, and what are their consequences, unintended or otherwise? How do they shape and form communication across generations?

This chapter aims to trace the development of such beliefs by discussing the historical development of ages as social categories and how the boundaries around age and different life stages have become sharpened and reinforced throughout recent history. It seems that the notion that people of very different ages—the young and the old—form different cultures or communities as discussed in chapter 1 maybe related to the development of particular social trends that can be traced back into the last 2 centuries.

What effect have social trends had on the frequency and quality of social contact between the generations? Research investigating the frequency of intergenerational contact, both between family members and in the wider community, shows some interesting trends, which intersect at various points with assumptions we might make about the solitary life experience of many contemporary older people. Perhaps partly in response to these assumptions about the lifestyles of older people, there has been a fairly recent growth in more formal programs designed to foster intergenerational contact.

Intergenerational contact in family, community, and organized contexts is discussed here see also chapter The chapter finishes by considering the mass media as contact between generations, and begins to examine how the amount and type of media portrayals of aging and intergenerational communication reflect and construct wider social issues.

A discussion about contact between members of different social groups, be it ethnic, religious, age related, or comprised of any other social group might begin with a number of related questions. How do we know about people? How do we know about intergenerational interactions and about people much older or younger than ourselves? According to this theory there are three means passive, active, and interactive by which we learn about others and reduce uncertainty in social situations.

Even though active and interactive strategies might seem, at face value, to be the most important, we should not discount passive strategies, which derive from Bandura's theory of social learning, and suggest that we learn through watching and observing others e. Each of these strategies for uncertainty reduction can be conceptualized in terms of levels of contact.

Referring to relational communication, Andersen suggested a number of sources of social information, which can be adapted for intergenerational knowledge, and which relate quite well both to the structuration perspective that was discussed in the previous chapter see Giddens, , and to uncertainty reduction. First, we both gain information from and follow norms in our society or culture. Second, we learn by observing others both passively and actively; for example, we can observe friends and others in the community interacting with older and younger people and we can gather information through mass-media portrayals.

Third, we gain information actively as well as incidentally from third parties such as friends and family e. Fourth, we gain information directly through our firsthand-intergenerational interactions. Finally, as a result of our own intraindividual communication—that is, our ongoing conversation with ourselves—through our cognitive work and reflexive activity, our knowledge can feed back into our future interactions. Considering direct interpersonal contact in terms of its frequency, intergenerational contact has become something of a contentious issue in the academic, particularly sociological, literature.

There tend to be two opposing positions, which are bandied back and forth. The first position suggests that modern society is obsessed with the age divide, is obsessed with chronological age as an influential factor dictating what and when people can achieve, as well as with whom they should appropriately mix. Because of this, intergenerational integration and contact across generations is in decline. According to this view, structural changes such as urbanization, industrialization and technologization in the 20th century modernization are linked to a decline in status of older people and devaluation of wisdom and skills associated with old age.

Essentially, this view suggests that a decline in elders' status also coincides with a decline in intergenerational contact. Further, it suggests that as old age has become devalued, older people can be seen as useless, and modern society has effectively abandoned and disengaged them. Populist views conjure up stereotypes of abandoned grannies and uncaring adult children. Thus, families may become unconcerned about older people, confining their elderly relatives to institutions and nursing homes, not visiting them, and showing no concern with their welfare.

Furthermore, women's employment outside the family home has rendered them unavailable as caretakers of elderly relatives. The second position suggests that, in spite of demographic and social changes, perceptions that intergenerational contact is in decline are at worst incorrect and are at best overstated. Increases in mobility and advances in technology can counteract other changes and families can find innovative ways of maintaining contact and intergenerational support. According to this position, research should show no decline in the estimated amount of contact between older and younger generations of the family see, e.

One of the tasks of this chapter is to reconcile these two different positions. The debate concerning the circumstances of contact between younger and older people in modern society is much more important and complex than either one of the two positions in this debate reveal. Perhaps most obviously, there is no guarantee that frequent contact aligns with positive contact, and this assumption often appears to be underacknowledged.

Highly frequent contact that is of poor quality can be very damaging. As shall be demonstrated, many measures of intergenerational contact do not typically assess contact quality in the ways that communication scholars would expect—that is, in terms of communication satisfaction and support. Also of importance is the issue of what exactly we are referring to when we use the term intergenerational? When discussing family dynamics intergenerational talk usually refers to that talk occurring among grandparents, parents, and children.

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Some developmentalists have suggested a year age gap as marking out different generations. Is a year age gap enough to suggest that a conversation is intergenerational? Clearly this can not be universally so, but we all work with implicit meanings about what intergenerational boundaries are; we talk of children, adolescents, middle-aged people, and the elderly. How did these understandings come about? Changes have emerged from a complex of events including responses to socio- structural needs such as those of industrialization and the growth of social pro- 30 CHAPTER 2 grams designed to protect more vulnerable members of society e.

Added to this, there have been vast changes in family structure, and in the pattern of work, health, and life expectancy. These changes have been matched and reified by the development of social practices such as pensioned retirement, and by age-associated rituals such as coming of age at Yoels, A historical perspective on the development of age segregation allows us to judge whether or not an alleged trend toward age segregation is indeed occurring, and thereafter to consider what the consequences of this might be. Social historians e.

For example, there have been vast historical changes in the perceptions of children. These writers and others suggest that evidence of this is apparent in portrait paintings in which babies and young children were painted with adult features—as miniature adults Aries, The tendency to view children as small adults is also apparent in other social practices. For example, until the 17th century, it was fairly common practice to require children to work in the fields and mines as if they were adults, without special considerations for their welfare.

Gradually this perception of children changed, and they were considered as quite different from adults with special needs for physical, social, and emotional development. These were recognized, for example, in the need for play. The notion of a distinct childhood became commonplace to such an extent that in the late 20th century we have witnessed the development and growth of the child-centered society. These changes in the perception of children are not independent from societal needs.

On the other hand, to view children as no different from adults is a convenience, perhaps linked to an economic need to send children to work as productive, not dependent, members of the family and society. In a similar fashion, with the increase of industrialization, adolescence was gradually recognized as a stage of life that resulted in complete independence from the family as the person grew into young adulthood and then married.

According to Karp and Yoels ; see also Coleman, the boundaries around this age group were partly marked out by lateth and earlyth century social movements in the United States. Such movements campaigned for compulsory education, child labor legislation, and specific legal procedures for the treatment of juveniles Bakan, Other writers e. Hall , which, for the first time, identified adolescence as a particular stage of life with its own unique developmental characteristics—one of which was a need to develop a distinct identity apart from the family of origin.

According to Heaven , it was chiefly the writings of Hall who, borrowing from previous writers, helped popularize and establish the belief that adolescence is a time of storm and stress. Wofenstein, In effect, such writing created an age group, adolescence, and defined its characteristics. There is a great deal of popular folklore about adolescence and what we can expect from people at this stage of life, and this has helped fuel and sustain both positive and negative stereotypes of young people Heaven, The concept of middle age is largely a post-war construction.

Before the 20th century, middle age was not thought of as a distinct period of the life span Chudacoff, Middle age, too, has its stereotypical characteristics. Particularly prominent in popular literature is the notion of the middle-age life crisis e. This is purported to be a time of life when the adult realizes that youth may be lost and struggles to reformulate who he or she is.

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Popular lore posits the familiar notion of older men suddenly developing a taste for fast cars and young women in a desperate bid to reclaim fading youth. As for the life stages called childhood and adolescence, demographic and social shifts led scholars and academics to focus on middle age as distinct and interesting in its own right.

The following pages present much discussion about old age as a distinct life phase and older people as a conceptually distinct group. Definitions of what is old have been changing in recent decades. Rather than years lived per se, it is perhaps social, economic, and health factors that have a strong influence in marking out this period of life. Increases in life expectancy and gains in medicine, health care, and social welfare mean that people now live far longer and healthier lives.

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What was defined as old age in the 19th century is chronologically distinct from what we now define as old age. One of the consequences is that we have recently witnessed the need to distinguish further stages of life in old age, as the young old, the old old and the oldest old. This seems to have come about because of the need to identify and target populations who might be in the greatest need of health and welfare services, but it is does not come without other social consequences, such as the danger of labeling and marginalizing the oldest-old person as the neediest and most socially draining old.

Chudacoff outlined four factors that he suggests strongly influence the importance of chronological age in modern society. First, age is a convenient objective indicator. Modern industrial societies need a skilled workforce, and thus need to develop expectations about skills potential and learning abilities. Chronological age provides an objective index of when certain skills and achievements can be expected from a potential workforce.

Second, age grading has also provided the organizing principle for social control because it enables a standardization for administering services and institutions such as education, health care, and so forth. Third, age grading moves us away from kinship-based traditions such as in hiring and job promotions and the dangers of organizational nepotism. Chronological age, rather than family and informal ties, can be used to determine whether people are ready to take on senior responsibilities. Finally, according to Chudacoff, expectations based on chronological age have provided a more objective index of when people can be expected to make transitions between roles and responsibilities.

Again, this trend is not without enablements and constraints. It also has unintended consequences, as Giddens would predict, and these are discussed in later chapters relating to agism. Irrespective of cultural background, as age of target increased, so did trait attributions of benevolence, norms of politeness and deference, and communicative respect and avoidance; however, attributions of personal vitality and communication satisfaction decreased linearly.

Young adults' reported avoidant communication with older people negatively predicted their conversational satisfaction and enjoyment of it. In addition, communicative respect was more strongly predictive of Africans' satisfaction while certain age stereotypes had contrastive effects for the Ghanaian and South Africans' enjoyment of intergenerational communication.

Intergenerational communication beliefs across the lifespan : Comparative data from Ghana and South Africa. N2 - This paper examines for the first time young adult American, Ghanaian, and Black South Africans' perceptions of communication and aging. AB - This paper examines for the first time young adult American, Ghanaian, and Black South Africans' perceptions of communication and aging. Add to Wishlist.

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