Human societies have varied traditions for handling old and incapacitated individuals. For instance, the ancient communities, such as the Ik based in Uganda, typically left the disabled and the old to starve to death (Zastrow & Kirst-Ashman, 2019). Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman (2019) attribute these practices, i.e., the abandonment of the old and disabled with scarce resources. Although deemed as bestial, these practices are still prevalent in contemporary society. This paper presents a comparative analysis of three cultures, an account of the existing differences, and these disparities’ impact on social work practice.
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Comparative Analysis of Cultures
The elderly in Japan have experienced a significantly high-status level compared to those in the United States. For instance, unlike the U.S, where a substantial percentage of the old who live away from their children, most of the older people in Japan are typically integrated into families. According to Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman (2019), over seventy-five percent of the older Japanese community live with their young ones. The respect accorded to the elderly in Japan takes various forms, for instance, food preparation is often congruous with their preferences, and people bow to them. Furthermore, Japan’s aging conceptualizations are founded on Taoist, Confucian, and Buddhist philosophical heritage, which link old age with maturity and wisdom (Halaweh et al., 2018). However, these collectivistic practices are slowly fading away due to the westernization and urbanization processes taking place in these nations.
On the other hand, West Africans hold the elderly in high regard as aging is associated with increased wisdom. It is considered virtuous and religious to support and take care of the elderly in Western Africa. In most West African families, the older adults oversee major community and family resources and societal functions. Community leadership is often accorded to the elderly because it is distinguished as having adequate knowledge compared to the youths (Macia et al., 2019). The extended family in this region is a typical cultural norm, meaning the old are usually integrated into the household. The Japanese and West-African perceptions of the elderly are more or less similar compared to that of the Americans.
Why These Differences Exist
The differences in cultural perspectives among the societies described above can be attributed to varied socio-economic conditions. The significant increase in the level of urbanization in the U.S and Japan plays a crucial role in increasing socioeconomic disparities, which trigger factors such as increased susceptibility to diseases, unemployment, and homelessness. According to Tucker-Seeley et al. (2011), a significant percentage of the elderly manage several chronic conditions, which share similar risk factors, such as low socioeconomic status. The aspects mentioned above subsequently promote individualistic practices and the erosion of collectivistic norms in these countries, unlike West Africa, which is a developing nation.
Perspectives on Social Work Practice
Different cultural beliefs usually shape social values and norms associated with the aging process and the role played by older individuals in society. These cultural beliefs form the basis of stereotypes and create a constrained social perspective on the elderly population. Social workers are, therefore, required to initiate strategies that aim to minimize these differences. Some of these approaches include:
- Reviewing practices and policies within the agency level and broader social context to distinguish cases of stigmatization or the improper treatment of older people.
- Engaging actively in promoting or advancing institutional procedures and policies that reinforce the backdrop of care for older individuals.
- Identifying ways to brace social views of elderly individuals and challenge stigmatized issues related to caring for the elderly, e.g., dependency.
- Recognizing the diversity that exists among older adults and acknowledging a person’s individuality.
Varied customs for managing old individuals exist in different human societies. This writing presents a comparative analysis of three cultures, an account of the existing differences, and these disparities’ impact on social work practice. The Japanese and West-African perceptions of the elderly are more or less similar compared to that of the Americans. The differences in cultural perspectives exist mainly due to socio-economic factors. Social workers are, therefore, required to initiate strategies that aim to minimize these differences.
Halaweh, H., Dahlin-Ivanoff, S., Svantesson, U., & Wille´n, C. (2018). Perspectives of older adults on aging well: A focus group study. Journal of Aging Research, 2018(9858252), 1 – 9. Web.
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Macia, E., Dial, B. F., Montepare, M. J., Hane, F., & Duboz, P. (2019). Ageing and the body: One African perspective. Ageing & Society, 39, 815 – 835. Web.
Tucker-Seeley, R. D., Li, Y., Sorensen, G., & Subramanian, S. V. (2011). Lifecourse socioeconomic circumstances and multimorbidity among older adults. BMC Public Health, 11(4), 313–321. Web.
Zastrow, C. H., & Kirst-Ashman, K. K. (2019). Understanding human behavior and the social environment (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.