The devaluation of aging and the elderly over the last several decades are directly tied to the emergence of the neoliberal political economy since the 1970s and the associated moral culture which places almost sole responsibility on the individual for her own economic, social and emotional well-being and strives to make collective efforts through the government to help vulnerable people, which can be anyone depending on circumstances, totally anathema. All of this has occurred over the last 40 years in plain sight of us all, but has actually been difficult to see because of neglect by the media and bi-partisan agreements between the political parties, the government cant do much to help people facing novel life conditions generated by profound changes in the economy, moral culture and roles of the state; after all Reagan said government is the enemy and Clinton seconded that attitude by announcing in 1996, after dismantling AFDc, that the era of big government is over, even as we were facing CC and profound changes in the labor market and a return to a deeply unequal society.
So, this is a major area where a serious sociology of neoliberalism could really offer some important insights if in fact we had such a thing, but we don’t. Sociology is not exceptional among the social sciences in this respect –they all have rather made a point of ignoring neoliberalism. The author of this insightful essay notes that:
Personal efforts to stay fit or engage in work are certainly not to be derided. What is of concern is the language of individual choice and the incitement to a self-optimization understood in terms of “productivity.” There are no grounds here for coping with disability and decline, physical or mental, or for embracing old age as a valued and dignified final chapter in its own right. And in the individualism being promoted there is precious little rationale for interdependence: for the humility, for instance, to accept care or the commitment to provide it. Despite the effort to project a positive image, what is on offer is a construction of old age that can only intensify and perpetuate its low status.