Disengagement Theory

Is Social Disengagement Theory Valid?

Social disengagement theory tells us that as we age, especially as we approach our final years, we'll tend to withdraw from the lifestyle we had previously known, and even loved. We will disengage ourselves from many activities, including a significant segment of our social life, and perhaps even withdraw from family and close friends.

Fortunately social disengagement theory is a theory and not a law. As long as just one individual refuse to follow the rules, it can't become a law, but must remain a theory. In truth, disengagement theory, while valid in many cases, is somewhat outdated.

Physical Disengagement - As we grow older, we lose the capacity or capability to do certain things. Physically, we can't do things we could do easily when in our twenties, though at times we like to think otherwise. Most people learn to go with the flow in this area, accepting the fact that our bodies are becoming more limited in what we can do. We may disengage ourselves from certain activities out of necessity, but as long as we can, will continue to lead an active life.

Mental Disengagement - When our mental processes being to fail however, it's a more complex issue, affecting different people in different ways. Once we begin to feel we are no longer mentally agile, it is very tempting to want to disengage from many things in life which are suddenly becoming complicated or even confusing. This is an area where social disengagement theory seems to have a good deal of validity.

Some people become more dependent on others as they age, either through necessity or through choice. Many however go in the exact opposite direction, becoming more and more independent. Some call it stubborn. This is a form of disengagement where the individual no longer feels required to abide by the usual social norms, and chooses to be free from these norms. This sometimes takes the form of withdrawing or disengaging from social groups, organizations, even friends.

It Takes Two To Tango - Social disengagement theory says that we can choose to withdraw from life due to external pressures. Ego plays a role in this. Some individuals are eager to retire and excited about the new lifestyle and new challenges (or lack of challenges) facing them. Others, especially those who may have been forced into retirement may leave with a bruised ego, feeling no longer needed. This feeling is shared by many, even by many who choose voluntary retirement. The feeling can grab hold though in some cases, and the affected individual will begin a slow withdrawal from normal social activities. The theory of social disengagement also stipulates that total disengagement will only occur if both the individual and society are ready for it. If you feel unworthy and unwanted, and those around you seem to agree, total disengagement becomes possible.


The Rocking Chair Is Obsolete - Forty or fifty years ago, retirement age was more closely associated with old age, the rocking chair syndrome, and social disengagement theory seemed to apply to some degree to most people. Today, the majority of retired people are determined to "add life to their years". There may be disengagement in some areas as old ties are broken, but today's senior citizens are far from being a generation dedicated to withdrawal. We certainly hear more and more all the time about successful aging. There are many books on the subject. Of course, successful aging can be defined almost any way you want to define it, as we all have different ideas as to what success is.

The point is, if you come across an article on social disengagement theory, particularly one which promotes the theory, remember that it's a theory and not a law. There's a difference. Also remember that the theory is a bit out of date. It applies to some, but not to as great a percentage of the population as was the case a couple of generations back. If you're a senior citizen, you're still quite capable of setting your own course, and you don't have to withdraw or disengage from a normal lifestyle to do it.