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Perspectives on Productive Aging
Social Work with the New Aged
Lenard W. Kaye, Editor
ISBN: 978-0-87101-377-4. 2005. Item #3770. 256 pages.
This ground-breaking book in the field of aging and gerontological social work fills a major gap in social work literature by debunking the myth that older people are less productive than younger ones. It redefines and expands the profession's responsibility in previously unexplored territory, including a much-needed emphasis on promoting and sustaining empowerment, voice, and engagement of older adults in the lifeblood of their families and communities.

Perspectives on Productive Aging lays out a far-reaching set of contemporary functions that social workers will need to assume in advocating for elder rights and quality of life. Focusing on the new cohort of older adults and those that will follow them – the leading edge baby boomers who are nearing retirement – the book expands our professional perspective on working with elders who are educated, active, mobile, financially secure, and engaged. It examines social work practice in nontraditional practice areas and settings, including physical fitness, spirituality and religion, the workplace, voluntarism, and education and learning.

The first in the NASW Press Practice Series on Aging, this challenging book is a must for practitioners, faculty, and students who work with older adults. In addition, it is a valuable tool for gerontological social work continuing education workshops and community seminars in agencies that work with elders and their families.
Robert N. Butler


Part 1: Setting the Stage

Chapter 1: The Emergence of the New Aged and a Productive Aging Perspective
Lenard W. Kaye

Chapter 2: The Demographics of Productive Aging
Charles F. Longino, Jr. and Don E. Bradley

Chapter 3: Conceptualizing Productive Aging
Nancy R. Hooyman

Part 2: Dimensions of Productive Aging

Chapter 4: Labor Force Participation
Michal E. Mor-Barak and Steve Wilson

Chapter 5: Volunteerism, Philanthropy, and Service
Nancy Morrow-Howell, Melinda Carden, and Michael Sherraden

Chapter 6: Family Life
Roberta R. Greene

Chapter 7: Personal and Individual Growth
Helen Q. Kivnick

Chapter 8: Spiritual Growth and Religious Growth
James W. Ellor

Chapter 9: Education and Learning
E. Michael Brady

Chapter 10: Activism
Sandra S. Butler

Chapter 11: Physical Activity, Exercise, and Recreation
Melonie D. Grossman

Chapter 12: The Potential of Productive Aging: A Personal Perspective and Reference Point
T. Franklin Williams and Carter Catlett Williams

Appendix A: Resources for Practitioners to Facilitate Productive Aging
Jennifer Campbell and Fontaine H. Fulghum

Appendix B: Strengths Assessment Interview Guide

Subject Index
About the Editor
About the Contributors
"Productive aging" is defined as the capacity of an older individual or population to continue to work in a paid or voluntary capacity. It expresses the valuable contributions that older people make to the family, to the community, and to national life. For example, the foundation world has calculated that billions of dollars of equivalent contributions have come from older people who do volunteer work. In addition to contributing to society, evidence suggests that productivity encourages health in the same way that health supports productivity. Studies begun in 1955 by the National Institutes of Health have demonstrated that older people who have goals and structure are likely to live longer.

The extent to which an older person can remain productive depends on a variety of personal factors, including physical and emotional well-being, motivation, attitude, education, and experience, and societal factors, including changes in technologies, attitudes, and structures. The interplay between personal issues and societal norms has an important influence on both paid and unpaid productive activities.

Having a sense of purpose, goals, and structure is advantageous to both the individual and society. However, Today, however, many older persons do not recognize the importance of constructive purpose, and society has few stabilized institutions that support genuine social, cultural, and productive roles for older persons. Unfortunately, the important topic of productive aging is lacking in the social work literature.

We have no time to waste. Before the 21st century ends, biological and societal advancement in gene-based and regenerative medicine will further extend longevity. The demographic changes will necessitate new work patterns, including significant roles for older Americans, both in the paid and in the voluntary sectors. As baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) age, it is increasingly apparent that they will continue to work. It is difficult to imagine 69 million talented and experienced baby boomers spending 20 to 30 years in retirement, collecting social security, and using Medicare as opposed to contributing to society.

Productive aging is in the best interest of society and the individual. Social workers’ role will be to help older individuals and society prepare for the growing numbers of older persons as the 21st century becomes the century of productive old age.
The premise of Perspectives on Productive Aging is based a response to the argument that the professional literature in the field of aging and gerontological social work is exceedingly biased. Gerontological practice emphasizes the problems, crises, and losses experienced by individuals as they age. At the same time, discussions of social work intervention with older adults center inevitably around strategies for dealing with those problems, crises, and losses. We have been inundated with research reports that detail the physical and mental decline associated with aging. We have available practice texts that address social work and other professional interventions with Alzheimer’s victims, the abused elderly, incapacitated elders in need of caregiving support, the institutionalized and homebound aged, and other subgroups of older adults in similar states of incapacity, vulnerability, and decline. Lost in the shuffle are an array of the creative and important functions and roles that social workers could more frequently assume as they serve the expanding cohort of the "new aged" – older adults who are more mobile, active, healthy, economically secure, educated, and politically sophisticated than older persons in any previous generation.

Bias toward the aging has led to a scarcity of material that probes positive, successful, independent, and productive aging experiences in the context of the family, the workplace, volunteering, social and recreational performance, personal growth, and social and political activism. This widespread and unfortunate vacancy in gerontological social work exists at the research, policy, program development, and clinical practice levels.

This volume aims to fill the gap in the literature by providing readers with a different frame of reference for examining the aging experience and by providing exploring a new, expanded set of professional functions social workers must acquire now and in the future. This book highlights the assets, resources, capacities, and skills of older adults rather than their problems, deficiencies, and needs. The arrival of the new millennium is an appropriate time to promote such an expansion in our professional perspective toward the aging experience and the roles and functions that social workers can legitimately assume in their work with older adults.

Considering the significant numbers of gerontological social workers and allied health professionals in public, nonprofit, and proprietary agencies and organizations serving older adults and their families, this book should have a broad readership. Geriatric care managers, retirement planners, senior center personnel, community and group work specialists, leisure time and recreational workers, and aging services planners and administrators will all find the content relevant to as they plan, design, and deliver services to older adults. Students preparing for careers in gerontological counseling and administration, care management, and adult recreational and leisure services are also appropriate audiences for this book.

The Responsibility of Contributors

Contributors to this volume were asked to review the scope and breadth of productive practices, behaviors, and contributions by older adults in various domains of daily life. They were also encouraged to draw on one or more theoretical perspectives to help them describe, explain, and predict the nature of older adult engagement in a particular life domain. Finally, contributors to the volume were expected to discuss a combination of macro, mezzo, and micro social work practice roles and methods to reinforce meaningful participation by older adults in a particular domain. In discussing social work practice functions, contributors have highlighted examples of innovative programs and model demonstrations that emphasize the promotion of productivity among older adults.

Readers will note that authors have used conceptual frameworks that recognize and enhance the personal resources, capacities, and abilities older adults can bring to bear to in meeting the challenges of active engagement in particular domains of functional and instrumental performance. They have also considered the impact of such variables as culture, race, ethnicity, health, gender, age, and economic well-being on productive lifestyles.

The Book’s Content

The content of this book is divided into two main sections. In the first section, entitled "Setting the Stage," the reader is presented with conceptual, demographic, and theoretical perspectives of productive aging. In chapter 1, Lenard W. Kaye considers alternative definitions of "productive aging" and offers an alternative paradigm for framing social work practice with older adults. Social work’s role in promoting productive aging is considered here as well. In chapter 2, Charles F. Longino, Jr., and Don E. Bradley develop a detailed demographic profile of the "new aged" fully documented by the literature. Chapter 3 by Nancy R. Hooyman presents a series of analytical perspectives for conceptualizing productive aging and interpreting it in different life contexts. Variables that can be expected to influence conceptualizations of productive aging, including culture, race, ethnicity, health, economic security, gender, and, of course, age, are considered in the discussion.

In the second section, entitled "Dimensions of Productive Aging," the productive aging experience in various domains of daily living is explored, including the roles and responsibilities of social workers engaged in work with these individuals. Dimensions considered include the workplace (chapter 4 -by Michal E. Mor-Barak and Steve Wilson); volunteerism and service (chapter 5 by Nancy Morrow-Howell, Melinda Carden, and Michael Sherraden); family life (chapter 6 by Roberta R. Greene); personal growth (chapter 7 by Helen Q. Kivnick); spiritual and religious life (chapter 8 by James W. Ellor); education and lifelong learning (chapter 9 by E. Michael Brady); activism (chapter 10 by Sandra S. Butler); and physical activity, exercise, and recreation (chapter 11 by Melonie D. Grossman). In chapter 12, T. Franklin Willams and Carter Catlett Williams present a unique and compelling personal and professional perspective on the productive aging experience from the vantage point of two highly respected professionals, husband and wife, and pioneers in social work and medicine.

This volume includes a specially prepared appendix by Jennifer Campbell and Fontaine H. Fulghum that provides practitioners with special resources to facilitate productive aging, including listings of special programs and demonstration projects, directories of special interest professional and disciplinary associations and membership groups that emphasize productivity in later life, and professional and scholarly journals that focus on aspects of productivity in old age.
Lenard W. Kaye, PhD, is professor of social work at the University of Maine School of Social Work and director of the UMaine Center on Aging. During the 2000-2001 academic year, he was the Visiting Libra Professor in the University of Maine’s College of Business, Public Policy, and Health. Previously, he was professor of social work and social research and director of the doctoral program at the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research at Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

A prolific writer in the field of social gerontology, Dr. Kaye has published approximately 100 journal articles and book chapters and 11 books on specialized topics in aging, including rural social work practice, older men, home health care, family caregiving, controversial issues in aging, support groups for older women, and congregate housing.

Dr. Kaye is the co-principal investigator of the Maine Primary Partners in Caregiving Project funded through the U.S. Administration on Aging, the principal investigator of the Hartford Geriatric Social Work Curriculum Infusion Project at the University of Maine School of Social Work, and principal investigator of the Maine Parenting Relatives Mental Health and Substance Abuse Project.

Dr. Kaye is the former chair of the National Association of Social Workers’s Section on Aging, sits on the editorial boards of Social Work Today, the Journal of Gerontological Social Work, and Geriatric Care Management Journal, and is a Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America. He is currently a member of the National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.