Alternate roles for the elderly: an example from a Midwestern retirement community

Hum Organ. 1980 Fall;39(3):219-26. doi: 10.17730/humo.39.3.k563637340062721.


Increasing numbers of individuals are surviving to retirement age in relatively good health. With the loss of the work role and other roles typically associated with middle age, they are faced with the dilemma of the "roleless role," an absence of well-articulated, age-appropriate expectations and standards of behavior by which to structure everyday life. Recent anthropological, sociological, and psychological studies indicate the possibility of the development of alternate roles and age-appropriate normative systems in age-homogeneous environments. An example of one such alternate behavioral system is provided from data collected on a small retirement community in the Midwest. A normative system seems to have developed in which personal qualities such as trust, friendliness, and concern for others are more highly valued than former achievements or occupational status. Residents most frequently cited as having made a good adjustment to aging were not necessarily those who were most active, but rather those individuals who showed a determination to "keep going," lacked self-pity, kept mentally alert and aware, were willing to help others, and showed a sense of responsibility to the community. Various roles were developed and were expected to be assumed by incoming residents: alternate "work roles," represented by committee memberships and volunteer activity; "family roles," represented by the supportive or helping relations adopted toward other residents; and leisure-type roles. These behavioral standards and expectations helped to structure the relationships and everyday life of residents within the community.

MeSH terms

  • Aged / psychology*
  • Homes for the Aged*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Missouri
  • Nursing Homes
  • Quality of Life*
  • Retirement*
  • Role*
  • Social Change