What is the Difference Between Activity Theory and Disengagement Theory

The main difference between activity theory and disengagement theory is that activity theory suggests that elderly people stay happy when they are active and engage in social interactions, but disengagement theory suggests that it is natural for elderly people to withdraw from society and personal relationships as they age.

Activity theory and disengagement theory are two major theories of ageing. Disengagement theory was the first theory of ageing developed by social scientists. Activity theory was developed as a response to disengagement theory, and there is a marked difference between activity theory and disengagement theory.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Activity Theory 
     – Definition, Ageing, Characteristics
2. What is Disengagement Theory
     – Definition, Characteristics, Postulates
3. What is the Difference Between Activity Theory and Disengagement Theory
     – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms

Activity Theory, Ageing, Disengagement Theory, ElderlyDifference Between Activity Theory and Disengagement Theory - Comparison Summary

What is Activity Theory

Activity theory is a theory that proposes elderly people stay happiest when they are active and maintain social interactions. The normal theory of ageing or lay theory of ageing also refers to the same theory. Robert J. Havighurs developed this theory in 1961 as a response to the disengagement theory of ageing.

Moreover, this theory suggests that there is a positive relationship between activity and satisfaction in life. It also suggests that the equilibrium an individual develops in middle age should be maintained as one grows older. In addition, elderly people who face role loss will substitute these roles with other alternatives.

According to research work done over the last few decades, activity theory is more accurate than disengagement theory. It engages elderly people, both mentally and physically, and allow them to socialize with others. This increases the feelings of happiness and self-worth, which are important for satisfaction, happiness and longevity.

However, some argue that this theory does not take into account the inequalities in health and economics that deters elderly people’s ability to engage in social interactions. In addition, some elderly adults also do not like to take part in new challenges. These are the shortcomings of the activity theory.

What is Disengagement Theory

Disengagement theory is a theory that proposes that it is natural and acceptable for people to withdraw from society as they grow old. Elaine Cumming and Warren Earl Henry are the developers of this theory. However, there have been many criticisms of this theory, and it is no longer accepted by many social scientists and gerontologists.

Postulates of Disengagement

This theory has nine postulates that describe that process of disengagement.

  1. As people’s ability to engage with others deteriorate over time, and they start to expect death, they lose social ties to those around them.
  2. As they start to disengage, they get free from social norms which guide interaction. Losing touch with norms strengthens the process of disengagement.
  3. Men and women face different disengagement processes due to their different social roles.
  4. Disengaging is stimulated by an individual’s unwillingness to have their reputation damaged by losing skills and abilities while they are still fully engaged in their social roles. At the same time, younger adults are trained to develop the knowledge and skills that are necessary to take over the roles of those who disengage.
  5. Complete disengagement occurs when the individual and society are ready for disengagement to occur. There will be a disjunction between the two when one is ready but not the other.
  6. Those who have disengaged will take on new social roles so that they will not suffer a crisis of identity or become demoralized.
  7. When a person realizes that there is short time remaining in their life, and no longer want to fulfil their roles, he or she is ready to disengage; the society allows disengagement since it provides jobs for the new youth, satisfy social needs of a nuclear family, and maintain differential death rate.
  8. Disengagement may cause remaining relationships to shift, relational rewards to change, and hierarchies to shift.
  9. Disengagement happens in all cultures, but it is shaped by the culture in which it occurs.

Difference Between Activity Theory and Disengagement Theory

Definition

Activity theory is a theory that proposes elderly people stay happiest when they are active and maintain social interactions. In contrast, disengagement theory is a theory that proposes that it is natural and acceptable for people to withdraw from society as they grow old.

Basics

According to activity theory, older adults stay happy if they remain active and engage in social interactions. However, according to disengagement theory, there is a reduction in social contact as people grow older, and disengagement is natural and acceptable.

Development

Disengagement theory was developed by Elaine Cumming and Warren Earl Henry, while activity theory was developed by Robert J. Havighurs as a response to the disengagement theory.

Acceptance

According to research studies done over the last few decades, activity theory is more accurate and acceptable than disengagement theory.

Conclusion

Activity theory and disengagement theory are two major theories of aging. The main difference between activity theory and disengagement theory is that activity theory suggests that elderly people stay happy when they are active and engage in social interactions, but disengagement theory suggests that it is natural for elderly people to withdraw from society and personal relationships as they age.

Reference:

1. Crossman, Ashley. “Understanding Disengagement Theory and Why It Is Controversial.” ThoughtCo, ThoughtCo, 18 Jan. 2019, Available here.
2. “The Functionalist Perspective on Aging.” Lumen, Available here.

Image Courtesy:

1. “1701640” (CC0) via Pixabay
2. “3347948” (CC0) via Pixabay

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.

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