Using functionalism, critically discuss what different factors might influence the well being of older people.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Within the functionalist perspective, there are different factors that might influence the well being of older people.  Understanding these particular strands, different factors can influence the well being of older people.  For example, under functionalism's disengagement theory, one factor that must be established is the social understanding of distance as one gets older. Functionalism's disengagement theory asserts that individuals will disengage from the social entity as they become older.  Aging is seen as a process in which individuals separate from the social order.  The functional purpose of this is to enable younger people in asserting their own particular realm of the social configuration.  In this construction, society benefits "because it allows the next generation to take over the societal roles in a smooth manner that supports societal stability."  One factor that might influence the well being of older people in this configuration is whether society has made provisions in both thought and action for older people to be able to disengage.  This might come in the form of retirement communities, or even a social perception in which older people are valued for this disengagement, an attitudinal perspective that young people will invariably fulfill the function of their older counterparts.

Another strand of the functionalist social philosophy argues that different people experience aging in different ways.  This idea can be seen in the functionalist activity theory, which affirms that there must be different outlets to embrace how older people take to the process of aging.  Some of these would include more avenues for activity that might be undertaken by older people, reflecting "activity levels and social involvement" that "are key to this process, and key to happiness." There must be a wide variety of activities and outlets to facilitate such a process, showing that aging is not "one size fits all." In this light, these factors would be different ones that might influence the well being of older people.  In both sets of functional understanding, there must be specific and different factors which account for the well being of older people. These forces must be understood in the social order, and are reflective of the roles that older people play in this process.  When individuals recognize the specific function that older people play within a social setting, the different factors that influence it become evident.