Older Men's Lives


Edited by: Edward H. Thompson Jr.

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  • Research on Men and Masculinities Series

    Series Editor:


    Contemporary research on men and masculinity, informed by recent feminist thought and intellectual breakthroughs of women's studies and the women's movement, treats masculinity not as a normative referent but as a problematic gender construct. This series of interdisciplinary, edited volumes attempts to understand men and masculinity through this lens, providing a comprehensive understanding of gender and gender relationships in the contemporary world. Published in cooperation with the Men's Studies Association, a Task Group of the National Organization for Men Against Sexism.


    • Maxine Baca Zinn
    • Robert Brannon
    • Cynthia Cockburn
    • Jeff Hearn
    • Martin P. Levine
    • William Marsiglio
    • David Morgan
    • Joseph H. Pleck
    • Robert Staples
    • Bob Blauner
    • Harry Brod
    • R. W. Connell
    • Clyde Franklin II
    • Gregory Herek
    • Robert A. Lewis
    • Michael A. Messner
    • Virginia E. O'Leary
    • Victor Seidler

    Volumes in this Series

    • Steve Craig (ed.)


    • Peter M. Nardi (ed.)


    • Christine L. Williams (ed.)

      DOING WOMEN'S WORK: Men in Nontraditional Occupations

    • Jane C. Hood (ed.)


    • Harry Brod and Michael Kaufman (eds.)


    • Edward H. Thompson, Jr. (ed.)


      Other series volumes in preparation


    For my dad, and for my children's Papa, my stepdad


    View Copyright Page


    “Will you still need me,” ask the Beatles in their memorable song, “when I'm 64?” Fears of aging have long animated the human quest for immortality, and recently we have begun to draw the connection between age and gender. Only rarely, though, has that connection been focused on the meaning of aging to men. But what could be more central to men's sense of themselves than being needed, being of use, and being valued? Yet that sense of ourselves is precisely what we feel is most threatened by aging.

    How is the aging process experienced by men? How do different groups of men react to this process? What types of strategies do men develop to handle aging, less as an unexpected crisis and more as a process of life? These are the questions that Ed Thompson set for himself in organizing this collection.

    This is the sixth volume in the Sage Series on Research on Men and Masculinities. The purpose of the series is to gather together the finest empirical research in the social sciences that focuses on the experience of men in contemporary society.

    Following the pioneering research of feminist scholars over the past two decades, social scientists have come to recognize gender as one of the primary axes around which social life is organized. Gender is now seen as equally central as class and race, both at the macro, structural level of the allocation and distribution of rewards in a hierarchical society and at the micro, psychological level of individual identity formation and interpersonal interaction.

    Social scientists distinguish gender from sex. Sex refers to biology, the biological dimorphic division of male and female; gender refers to the cultural meanings that are attributed to those biological differences. Although biological sex varies little, the cultural meanings of gender vary enormously. Thus we speak of gender as socially constructed: the definitions of masculinity and femininity as the products of the interplay among a variety of social forces. In particular, we understand gender to vary spatially (from one culture to another), temporally (within any one culture over historical time), and longitudinally (through any individual's life course). Finally, we understand that different groups within any culture may define masculinity and femininity differently, according to subcultural definitions. Race, ethnicity, age, class, sexuality, and region of the country all affect gender definitions. Thus it is the goal of this series to explore the varieties of men's experiences, remaining mindful of specific differences among men and aware of the mechanisms of power that inform both men's relations with women and men's relations with other men.

    As the chapters collected in this volume make clear, the convergence of life course processes and gender issues is particularly piquant for men. And, of course, different men—differently situated in other social hierarchies—experience this convergence differently.

    Some issues do remain constant, and among the most persistent is the sense of loneliness and isolation that men face as they age. Of course, it need not be that way. “You'll be older, too,” the Beatles remind us. “And if you say the word, I could stay with you.”

    Michael S.Kimmel Series Editor


    No scholarly work, especially an edited work, is constructed alone. Thanks are due to Susan Ostrander and John Harney for the encouragement to take on this project and the advice and suggestions. In men's lives, short face-to-face conversations can have lasting effects. Also, I want to acknowledge the enthusiastic support that Michael Kimmel has provided throughout the project. As series editor, Michael made several contributions and offered further assistance if needed. At Sage, Mitch Allen, Frances Borghi, and Yvonne Konneker took control and moved the project from idea to print. I also want to acknowledge the suggestionns from Stephen Ainlay (Holy Cross College) and Jetse Sprey (emeri-tis, Case Western Reserve University) that sharpened my sensitivity to the discourses on older men; Cathy Pojani for her technical assistance in preparing chapters; and the unconditional, unwavering “being there” that Ruth Mendala-Thompson gave.


    Especially outside, but even inside, the field of gerontology, there has been a tendency to view the elderly population as a homogeneous mass of older people whose lives take place in contexts that differ markedly from the middle-aged and the young. However commonplace this image, it was constructed in error. The elderly population in the United States is not a unified mass, and it has not been for centuries. This population differs conspicuously by gender as well as by birth cohort. Inside the population are older men and older women, very elderly men, and very elderly women. There are more women, and now many theorists postulate that a feminization of “the aged” has begun. But there are elderly men whose masculinities, relationships with intimates, developmental trajectories, worries, work and leisure activities, material resources, age-related limitations, and health concerns differ from other older men and women in their communities.

    As much as we know that the elderly population is neither homogeneous nor exclusively female, we have not established much information about elderly men. The research communities in gerontology, family studies, and gender studies have not studied older men as men. Basic to this volume is the distinction between sex and gender. Sex is fundamentally biological, gender is fundamentally social. Biological males grow and age; men mature and change throughout life. Much of the gerontological literature has introduced us to older biological males by virtue of describing a sex difference in aging. The 13 chapters in this volume begin a process in which elderly men are studied through a lens that emphasizes gender as much as age.

    In much the same way that the gerontological literature treats men as if they are genderless, the gender studies literature has unwittingly presented adult men as ageless. Without a wide-frame, life course perspective and an appreciation of aging as a social process, much of the research on men failed to recognize that numerous masculinities coexist for older men, and that these individuals are not living equally by the same standard. Theorizing the presence of multiple masculinities means that old men of different birth cohorts, ethnicity, class, and sexual orientation could have their own age-specific standards of masculinity. The authors contributing to volume, although drawing on different discourses, have begun to help clarify the principle that older men also exhibit masculinities in their relations with others. The authors' work uniquely contributes to men's studies and gender studies.

    The collective effort presents no one perspective as the authentic “older men” viewpoint. This collection effectively demonstrates the diversity within the academy. Nonetheless, one cannot help but wonder whether the diverse visions of what it means to be both a man and an elder presented in this volume can ever be concurrent and woven together.

  • Name Index

    About the Authors

    Rebecca G. Adams (Ph.D., University of Chicago) is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Her major research interest is friendship patterns, especially as affected by geographic separation and cultural and structural context. She is coeditor of Older Adult Friendship: Structure and Process (1989), coauthor of Adult Friendship (1992), and author of numerous articles.

    Jeffrey S. Applegate, D.S.W., teaches developmental theory and clinical practice at Bryn Mawr College's Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research. He has published many journal articles on men as caregivers across the life cycle, is coauthor of Men as Caregivers to the Elderly (1990), and is consulting editor for Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal and Clinical Social Work Journal.

    Judith G. Gonyea, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor and Chair of Social Research at the Boston University School of Social Work. She is also a fellow at the Boston University Center on Work and Family. She has published extensively in the fields of gerontology, family, and gender studies. She currently serves on the editorial boards of Research on Aging and Journal of Gerontological Social Work, is a reviewer for The Gerontologist and Social Work in Health Care, and is writing Family Caregiving, Policy and Gender Inequities (with Nancy Hooyman) for Sage.

    Theodore J. Gradman (Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles) is a neuropsychologist at Mills Hospital in San Mateo, California. He also maintains a private practice in San Mateo specializing in short-term cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy with depressed and anxious adults. His research interests include the predictors of stroke rehabilitation outcome, psychotherapy with older adults, life span gender-role development, and intellectual functioning in diabetics.

    Richard A. Greer, M.D., is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Florida. His research interests include biological components related to geriatric sexuality, sleep disorders, forensic psychiatry, medication protocols for new psychiatric drug agents, and sexuality in couples with one spouse suffering from senile dementia. In addition to clinical and teaching responsibilities, he serves as an expert witness in both civil and criminal matters of law.

    David Gutmann, Ph.D., a graduate of the Committee of Human Development at the University of Chicago, is currently Professor of Psychiatry and Education at Northwestern University, Chicago. He was one of the first American psychologists to question the conventional geriatric wisdom—namely, that the process of human aging is exclusively a tale of losses—and to explore the developmental possibilities for men and women in middle and later life. His American and cross-cultural studies on these matters were reported in his book Reclaimed Powers: Towards a New Psychology of Men and Women in Later Life (1987). He is Director of the Older Adult Program at Northwestern Medical School.

    Margaret Hellie Huyck, Ph.D., is Professor in the Department of Psychology at Illinois Institute of Technology and a Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America. She is the author of Growing Older (1974) and (with W. Hoyer) Adult Development and Aging (1982), as well as chapters on gender and family relations during the middle years. Her major research has focused on young adult children and their parents in “Parkville,” a study funded by NIMH. In addition, she has been examining the ways in which postgraduate physician education in geriatrics can facilitate broader perspectives of appropriate health care for older patients.

    Lenard W. Kaye, D.S.W., is Professor at Bryn Mawr College's Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research. His research interests include men's elder caregiving experiences, community based and institutional long-term care services for the aged, marketing human services to older people, and the delivery of high-technology home health care services. He is author, coauthor, or editor of Resolving Grievances in the Nursing Home (with Abraham Monk and Howard Litwin) (1984), Men as Caregivers to the Elderly (with Jeffrey Apple-gate) (1990), Congregate Housing for the Elderly (with Abraham Monk) (1992), and Home Health Care (1992).

    Pat M. Keith, Ph.D., is Professor of Sociology and Assistant Dean at Iowa State University's Graduate College. She is the author of The Unmarried in Later Life (1991) and coauthor of Relationships and Well-Being Over the Life Stages (1991). She is currently researching guardianship of older persons (with Robbyn Wacker) and assessing the relationship between legislative change and outcomes for proposed wards.

    William Marsiglio, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Florida. His current theory and research interests include men's issues as they relate to sexuality, procreation, contraception, child support, child care, parenting, and primary relationships of men of varying ages. He was recently guest editor for two volumes of the Journal of Family Issues devoted to fatherhood issues.

    Sarah H. Matthews, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Sociology at Cleveland State University. Her recent research has been published in family and gerontology journals and has focused on older families from the perspective of adult children. She also has written The Social World of Older Women (1979) and Friendships Through the Life Course: Oral Biographies in Old Age (1986).

    Barbara Pittard Payne, Ph.D., is Emeritus Professor and Director of the Gerontology Center at Georgia State University. Her primary areas of interest are religion and aging, volunteerism, and faith development in late life. She has published many chapters and articles on religion and spirituality among older persons and has coedited two volumes of Gerontology in Theological Education (1989).

    Kenneth Solomon, M.D., was Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior and Associate Professor of Internal Medicine, St. Louis University School of Medicine. He was Director of the Geriatric Psychiatry Program at the St. Louis Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and Codirector of the Geriatric Psychiatry Fellowship Program in the Division of Geriatric Psychiatry, St. Louis Medical School. He authored or coauthored many publications that address the psychosocial factors associated with psychopathology in elderly men. He coedited Men in Transition: Theory and Therapy (1982). Kenneth Solomon died on April 12, 1994.

    Peggy A. Szwabo, Ph.D., is Director of Geriatric Psychiatry Outpatient Services and Instructor in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, St. Louis University School of Medicine, and Adjunct Assistant Professor, St. Louis University School of Social Work. She has written about gender issues, psychotherapy, and caregiver concerns in the elderly and coedited Problem Behaviors in Long-Term Care: Recognition, Diagnosis, and Treatment (1993). Her research interests include gender issues in the development and treatment of psycho- pathology, clinical issues in long-term care institutions, and professional caregiver burnout.

    Jeanne L. Thomas, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin at Parkside. Her research interests include older parents' evaluations of adult children's assistance, concordance between older parents' and adult children's views of the affective quality of their relationships, psychosocial development in middle and later adulthood, and associations between grandparenthood and mental health. She is the author of Adulthood and Aging (1992).

    Edward H. Thompson, Jr. (Ph.D., Case Western Reserve University) is Associate Professor of Sociology at Holy Cross College, Worcester, Massachusetts. His recent research has examined family caregiving, men's violence, and the masculinities of older men in public consciousness. His major research interest is the effect of masculinities on men's well-being, particularly middle-aged and elderly men. He has published in the fields of family, gerontology, and gender studies.

    George E. Vaillant, M.D., is Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Director of Research for the Division of Psychiatry, Brigham and Women's Hospital. He is also Director of the Study of Adult Development at the Harvard University Health Services. His research interests include charting adult development, the recovery process of schizophrenia, heroin addiction, alcoholism, and personality disorder. He is author of Adaptation to Life (1977), The Natural History of Alcoholism (1983), and The Wisdom of the Ego (1993).

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