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Two - Intimacy and ageing in late modernity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 April 2022

Torbjörn Bildtgård
Affiliation:
Stockholms universitet Institutionen för socialt arbete
Peter Öberg
Affiliation:
Högskolan i Gävle, Sweden
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Summary

In this chapter we will present different theoretical perspectives that we will use to discuss the structural preconditions for late-life intimacy in contemporary Western societies. In the chapter we discuss the rise of consumer society as a context for extending the lifestyles of mid-life into later life and the concurrent emergence of the third age as a historically new life phase of self-realisation. We also discuss the transformation of intimacy in the second half of the 20th century and how this transformation is shaped by different social and cultural contexts. Finally, we use developmental theory to consider the existential structure of the later phase of life and its implications for intimacy.

The changing landscape of later life

The life course is a social institution which varies by historical time and cultural context (Kohli, 2007). It determines the expected contents of the normal life and the timing of these events, for example education, work, marriage, parenthood and so on. As society changes, the institution of the life course will change as well and members of different cohorts will grow old in different ways (Riley, 1998). In the following we argue that the institution of the life course is a central structural condition that affects intimate relationships in later life. Opportunities for repartnering in later life will be different depending on the historical period in which individuals grow old and in which cultural context this takes place.

A central change in the institution of the life course in the last century, with important effects on the opportunity structure for new intimate relationships in later life, is the addition of years to the healthy lifespan. Together with improved material conditions and social reforms in many parts of the Western world it has given rise to a new phase of life, the third age (Laslett, 1989), a life phase between the second age of working life and the fourth age of frailty and dependence. The third age, which Laslett calls the ‘crown of life’, is characterised by active self-development and realisation of life plans. As part of the third age, the prolongation of life provides a central structural change of the life course that allows people to envision new intimate futures later in life.

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Chapter
Information
Intimacy and Ageing
New Relationships in Later Life
, pp. 13 - 28
Publisher: Bristol University Press
Print publication year: 2017

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