"The meaning of “old age” can vary tremendously across time and across cultures, profoundly influencing how we order our lives. It can even vary within communities and families.
Anthropologist Usha Menon has conducted long-term ethnographic research on the role of aging in women’s lives in Bhubaneswar, a city famous for its Hindu temples, in the Indian state of Orissa. A recent article of Menon’s in the Journal of Cross Cultural Gerontology examines some different understandings of older adulthood in the lives of women in Bhubaneswar.
Drawing on the researcher’s own ethnographic data (consisting of interviews and participation in the daily lives of families in Bhubaneswar), Menon identifies two main local definitions of “old age.”
One of these was associated with the local Hindu tradition, and defined old age as time of rest, withdrawal, and freedom from life’s responsibilities. The other definition was more negative, tied to local understandings of physical and mental aging, and presented older age as a “second childhood” of dependency on others.
The author illustrates these with two case studies of older women, one who saw her family as treating her with care and respect, and the other who felt marginalized and improperly cared for.".....