Book Cover
Marvin Formosa, Paul Higgs (Editors)

Social Class in Later Life: Power, Identity and Lifestyle

Policy Press, Bristol, UK, 2013, Hardback
ISBN: 9781447300588
208pp

Reviewer: Pamela Pitman Brown, PhD
Winston-Salem State University, USA
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To be able to review a book for a journal so soon after its publication is often a challenging task for the reviewer. The title of the book struck me as compelling since some gerontologists discuss social class as contextual for later life, but do not use social class as analysis the way we may use health or economic inequalities. The text emerged from a symposium titled
Theorising Social Class in Later Life: Power, Identity and Lifestyle, at the 19th World Congress on Gerontology and Geriatrics (2009) of the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics (IAGG) in Paris, of which Formosa and Higgs were the conveners. The book is an outgrowth of both the 19th and 20th World Congress (2013 in Seoul) and the British Sociological Association 2013 Annual Conference, thus the essays are quite timely and include up-to-date material. The text is available in the UK from Policy Press at the University of Bristol, and within the US is available from Chicago University Press.

As an undergraduate professor, I customarily instruct my students to read the
Preface/Foreword of a text to garner a more precise understanding of authors/editors standpoint. The Foreword by Malcolm Johnson relates the historical perspectives of sociologists toward class divisions and class formations, as well as how the subdisciplines of gerontology and medical sociology lost interest in social class as a variable during the later 20th century. Johnson points out various key players and seminal works within the gerontological discipline, and additionally offers the reader a glimpse into the critical gerontology movement. He also discusses the text’s theoretical framework based upon Pierre Bourdieu’s 1984 concept of notions of distinction, reproduction, and habitus. The conciseness of Johnson’s foreword provides student readers the underpinnings of the upcoming chapters, allowing them to read and think critically throughout the remainder of the text.

Formosa and Higgs’ introduction chapter continues to inform the reader of the historical background of social class and class trajectories within gerontology. There is also to a certain degree a chastisement of social gerontologists for reporting research findings bereft of theoretical frameworks and for operationalising
class with socio-economic status or job-status scales. Formosa and Higgs do point out there are gerontologists who acknowledge this absence of social class as a variable by quoting Settersten and Trauten (2009). The remainder of the introduction then relays the structure of the remainder of the text and of the intended objectives. Additionally, the reference list at the end of the introduction is one that highlights influential writings within the discipline of gerontology, allows the wonderful opportunity for students to read alongside the text the articles contained in the reference list.

The following eight chapters view social class and ageing through various lens: affluence and social mobility (Bottero, Chapter 2); marginalization of social class via its intersection with ageing, and the tilt toward a social status (i.e. gender and ethnicity) perspective and globalisation (Phillipson, Chapter 3); social class as both an independent and dependent variable (Lopez, Chapter 4); social class and age identity changes in later life (Hyde & Jones, Chapter 5); pension and old age security within low-, middle-, or high-income countries (Storellie & Williamson, Chapter 6); challenging the notions of health inequality via social class from a divergent/convergent perspective (Jones & Higgs, Chapter 7); the ‘who receives, who needs, who gives’ care conundrum on the basis of social class and family resources (Victor, Chapter 8); and the unknown effects of socio-economic status on social work services in later life (Hafford-Letchfield, Chapter 9)

In the final chapter, the editors present a reflection on the previous eight chapters and suggest interventions in the incorporation of social class into more gerontological knowledge and research. Higgs and Formosa also revisit generational habitus, particularly within the Boomer demographic who value individualisation and choice, questioning how will the Boomers construct or deconstruct retirement, social class, and social policy even across globalised interests. Linking old age euphemistically to a social disease, they point out that old age is “an epiphenomenon of earlier points in the life course” (p. 173), which have over the course of time become more and more tenuous, and even more contingent on the how/why/when/how of retirement, including the second ‘how’ of retirement financing. Many undergraduate students will enjoy the referencing of a zombie category for later life, which unlocks a window to introduce them to Ulrich Beck vis-à-vis Jonathan Rutherford’s 1999 interview. These small titbits are wonderful teaching opportunities, capturing students’ attention, expanding their sociological knowledge, and holding their interests for a while! I highly recommend this text at both the undergraduate and graduate level of study within gerontology/sociology and in particular within the realm of aging and inequalities across the lifecourse. This text allowed me to analyse critically what research and theoretical perspectives we are using in our gerontological foundation courses.

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