Geographies of Older People
While there has been significantly less geographical work on older than younger people, there is a growing willingness among geographers to explore the ways space, place, and scale impact upon and are shaped by older people. Geographers have thus looked at ageism within spatial planning and the ways older people experience the built environment as well as how older age shapes experiences of healthcare, embodiment, public transport, memory, and bereavement. Work in this area has a number of features in common with younger people's geographies. Both address highly prevalent, yet deeply engrained forms of prejudice and both may be placed within broader academic and policy contexts. Critical gerontology, for example, emphasizes that older age may be considered a socially constructed category, rather than a fixed or natural given. It has also demonstrated that modernity's preoccupation with documenting chronological age is a relatively recent phenomenon driven by lawyers, bureaucrats, and legislators, who specified precise numerical ages for an increasing number of civil rights and duties. Gerontology, like the new social studies of childhood, is also a multidisciplinary field, drawing upon social and behavioral sciences, humanities, medicine, health, housing, and social care as well as policy studies and those involved in voluntary agencies. Geographical analysis has important roles to play within gerontology, although to date it has been under represented.
The scope for older people's geographies to inform policy is considerable, particularly given the growing body of international and national legislation on age and age discrimination. Pivotal here are two interrelated trends. The first is a postmodern embracing of difference and respect for diversity. This can be seen in academic disciplines such as geography. Significantly, however, it also extends to wider social and political arenas. Within this climate it becomes progressively less tenable to maintain positions of prejudice and bigotry, at least through forms which are open to explicit and direct questioning. The second trend is demographic, that is, the rapid aging of the world's population. No longer confined to Minority World countries in their older states of industrialization, this trend offers significant challenges and opportunities, particularly in more populous and resource scarce Majority World countries.
Responding to these dual trends, key international agencies such as the UN and the World Health Organization (WHO) have developed a rigorous body of policy addressing ageism and creating a positive agenda for older people with parallels to the UNCRC. These policies include the WHO's Brasilia Declaration on Ageing (1996) and the UN's Second World Assembly on Ageing (Madrid, 8–12 April 2002). The latter unanimously adopted the Madrid Political Declaration and International Plan of Action on Ageing. These policy developments can be criticized for their implicit reproduction of Western developmental norms. Indeed, there is a striking instrumentalism behind such policies intended to turn the so called 'problem' of a rapidly aging population into an asset which can contribute to economic growth and a mainstream development agenda. This instrumentalism parallels policies on Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship which suggest that the world's economic and social challenges can be solved by educating children to avoid their parent's mistakes, rather than parents making the appropriate changes themselves. Notwithstanding their Western developmental bias and instrumentalism, these policies promote an 'active aging' agenda which establishes older people's right to live in security, enjoy good health, and continue to participate fully in society.
Such policies place older age and the ageism associ ated with it firmly on international and national arenas and have led to recent anti-age discrimination legislation such as that in the UK. The scale of the challenges these initiatives address and the scope for greater engagement with age by geographers can be seen in the suggestion that ageism is the most pervasive form of prejudice experienced in the UK population. While anti-ageism legislation such as the UK Employment Equality (Age) Regulations (2006) has mainly been regarded in relation to its implications for older people, it applies equally to younger people. Once the logic of addressing age based discrimination is accepted, it becomes increasingly dif ficult to avoid addressing all forms of ageism, including that against younger people. It may not be long, there fore, before there are renewed calls to reconsider the minimum voting age and the age at which younger people have the right to an independent income. Indeed, the ever broadening nature of the focus on age and aging is reflected in the WHO and National Governments', emerging research agendas looking at issues such as the gender dimensions of aging. The fact that women and men age so differently has significant social, political, and economic implications. The ratio of women to men over 80 years is 2:1, for example, while among supercentenarians (those over 110 years) it is more than 10:1. Geographers are well placed to contribute to research and analysis on such age based phenomena.