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Ageing in a consumer society

Ageing in a consumer society: From passive to active consumption in Britain

Ian Rees Jones
Martin Hyde
Christina R. Victor
Richard D. Wiggins
Chris Gilleard
Paul Higgs
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  • Book Info
    Ageing in a consumer society
    Book Description:

    Targeted as the 'grey consumer', people retiring now participated in the creation of the post-war consumer culture. These consumers have grown older but have not stopped consuming. Based on extensive analysis over two years, this unique book examines the engagement of older people with consumer society in Britain since the 1960s. It charts the changes in the experience of later life in the UK over the last 50 years, the rise of the 'individualised consumer citizen' and what this means for health and social policies. The book will appeal to students, lecturers, researchers and policy analysts. It will provide material for teaching on undergraduate courses and postgraduate courses in sociology, social policy and social gerontology. It will also have considerable appeal to private industry engaged with older consumers as well as to voluntary and non-governmental organisations addressing ageing in Britain.

    eISBN: 978-1-84742-362-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. List of tables and figures
    (pp. v-viii)
  2. ONE Social change and later life
    (pp. 1-12)

    The study of social change has always been at the heart of the sociological enterprise and the last decades of the 20th century have provided considerable material to work on. Not only did industrialisation and urbanisation reach unprecedented levels, but the integration of the world at economic, technological and cultural levels created the globalised conditions that transformed previous experiences of international linkages (Held et al, 1999). Within these macro social processes were contained many other transformations of social life, including education, health and social care and the control of fertility. Consumption must also be included in this list, given its...

  3. TWO The historical evolution of the third age
    (pp. 13-28)

    The idea that later life could be represented as a third age of individual engagement and relative autonomy is one that has been contentious among social gerontologists since it started to gain widespread use in the 1990s; see Bury (1995) for a critique and Freedman (1999) for an exhortation. Part of the reason for the controversy lies not in the sentiment for a better later life but in the challenge that the idea of a third age represents for existing social gerontological theories of old age. The orthodoxy that had settled around the ‘structured dependency’ and political economy schools of...

  4. THREE Cohort, generation and time
    (pp. 29-40)

    The horizontal divisions within society, such as cohort, age group and generation, have had considerably less attention paid to them than the vertical divisions of class, gender and ethnicity. This may reflect the starker social polarisation that emerged during the course of industrialisation, a polarisation that preoccupied the founders of the emergent social sciences. Horizontal divisions within society may have been recognised but they were not seen as so significant, or as key sites of social conflict. While there is still continued debate regarding the nature and significance of many of the vertical divisions in society, the importance of horizontal...

  5. FOUR Consumption and the changing nature of the household in later life
    (pp. 41-48)

    Since antiquity, the household has been the basic organisational unit of western society. In ancient Greece, it was termed theoikos(from which is derived the term ‘economy’), while in Rome, it was termed thefamilia(from which is derived the term ‘family’). For the Greeks and Romans, as for most settled societies, the household was the central unit of production, consumption, enumeration and taxation. Besides being a site where goods and services were produced and consumed, the household was also the site of social reproduction where age, generation, gender and sexuality were enacted and personal identities formed and sustained....

  6. FIVE Later life in consumer society
    (pp. 49-60)

    As we have seen in Chapters One and Two, the closing decades of the 20th century saw significant social changes in the nature of later life, some of which reflect the emergence of ‘consumer societies’ in the UK and elsewhere. The uneven nature of retirement, as well as the relative affluence of many retired people and the poverty of others, influence the experience and patterns of consumption in later life. Several key writers have pointed out how social identities are increasingly formed around processes of consumption rather than those of production and reproduction (Beck, 1991; Bauman, 1998; Zukin and Maguire,...

  7. SIX Income, expenditure and inequalities in later life
    (pp. 61-76)

    In Chapter One we noted that the UK experienced considerable income growth from the 1960s onwards despite prolonged periods of economic crisis and high unemployment (Atkinson, 2000). Many older people benefited from these increases in income so that the economic position of older people has improved markedly over the past few decades in Britain as it has in most of the advanced industrialised world (Disney and Whitehouse, 2001; Casey and Yamada, 2002). This improvement creates winners and losers, with retirement age couples doing considerably better than single pensioners and women, particularly women who become widows, benefiting less (DWP, 2007). The...

  8. SEVEN Consuming health in later life
    (pp. 77-96)

    In this book, we have so far looked at a number of different aspects of the role of consumption in shaping the identity and experience of later life in contemporary Britain. Here we focus on health and health-related consumption. This is a rather different entity from those considered in earlier chapters where we looked at the growth of access to material goods by older people. Clearly, goods such as washing machines, videos and computers need little explanation or justification as ‘consumption items’. They are material objects that have both a physical form and convey a variety (or myriad) of meanings...

  9. EIGHT Health and social policy: a moving target
    (pp. 97-112)

    This chapter examines the evolution of consumerism in UK health and social welfare policy with particular respect to older people. The chapter outlines the chronology of changes in health and social policy that have particular resonance for older people and the significance of these changes within ‘a society of consumers’ (Bauman, 2007, p 52). We chart the development and expansion of the post-war welfare state from its origins in the late 1940s to the mid-1970s, the ‘crisis’ of the welfare state and the subsequent reformulation of welfare policy that took place during the 1980s and 1990s. We go on to...

  10. NINE Conclusion
    (pp. 113-120)

    In this book we have traced a growing engagement with consumer society among the older age groups over the last 40 years of the 20th century. While this engagement has been both varied and uneven, the overall trend has been one of increasing ownership of and expenditure on key consumer goods during this period (from a low baseline). These changes in the consumption patterns of the older population reflect other deep and lasting transformations in British society that have left their mark on the landscape of British social, economic and political life. These include the long-term decline of mass employment...

  11. Appendix: Methods and data
    (pp. 139-142)