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date: 25 April 2019

Summary and Keywords

Ideas regarding what it means to age well date back centuries. Gerontological scholarship includes countless conceptual, theoretical, and empirical contributions to how to make sense of these ideas. The construct of successful aging is therefore one of the most debated operationalizations of what it means to age well. Empirical research on successful aging taps into either understandings of successful aging or the strategies that people use to age well. The very essence of the construct of successful aging is, however, sociocultural. This is why this chapter proposes that exploring the cultural values that underpin the understandings of successful aging that inform this scholarship is a theoretically profuse approach to making sense of the controversy that surrounds this construct.

Two decades ago, a culture-relevant framework for the study of understandings of successful aging was formulated to address the disregard for cultural values that lie at the very core of this controversy. This framework proposes that there is congruence between the value orientations that people prefer and the understandings of successful aging that they hold, and that if we are to make sense of this congruence, we need to acknowledge that the foundations of value orientations (i.e., political, economic, and religious systems) shape what we deem to be necessary for aging well. From this it follows that there are bound to be more understandings of successful aging than what the scholarship in this area tends to acknowledge. After all, gerontological scholarship relies most heavily on contributions made on the basis of data from highly industrialized societies in the part of the world referred to as “the West.” In other words, gerontological scholarship on successful aging is extremely ethnocentric in its take on this construct, since only a handful of cultural understandings of what it means to age well are regarded as the norm. A failure to acknowledge this very fact leads gerontologists to disregard or downplay (often inadvertently) understandings of what it means to age well that do not resonate well with their own value paradigms or to impose (sometimes unintentionally) the Western template on findings about successful aging that do not rhyme well with what this scholarship assumes to be a given (i.e., a future, activity, independence, and mastering of nature orientation to what aging well means).

Keywords: successful aging paradigm, aging well, cultural values, value orientations, cultural understandings of successful aging

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