68th Annual Scientific Meeting of the Gerontological Society of America

The 68th Annual Scientific Meeting of the Gerontological Society of America conference is the most important yearly event in the gerontological calendar, drawing thousands of attendees from all over the globe. This year it takes place in Orlando, Florida – 18-22 November 2015. To encourage interdisciplinary debate between the different sections of GSA, this year’s conference presents an interdisciplinary track, featuring among other events, an interdisciplinary symposium on Time, Age and Aging sponsored by the Humanities & Arts Committee of GSA which is chaired and organized by Jan Baars.

For the program of the whole conference see

Time, Age and Aging – An Interdisciplinary Symposium
Jan Baars (University for Humanistic Studies, Utrecht, The Netherlands)
The common source of creativity, commitment and concern in gerontology is that simple but elusive question: What is Aging? Trying to answer this question requires sophisticated disciplinary efforts that can easily lead to mutual disengagement. One way to have an interdisciplinary discussion is to focus on basic concepts that are used in all approaches to aging. ‘Time’ is such a basic concept because aging is, basically, living in a temporal perspective. ‘Time’ is usually connected to ‘aging’ through the concept of ‘age’, that is meant as an indicator of ‘aging’. With calendars and clocks we can measure precisely what the ‘age’ of a person is in the sense of time since birth. However, there are important reasons to doubt the idea that ‘age’ would be a reliable, methodologically independent indicator of ‘aging’. Moreover, ‘age’ is made important as it is used to influence and structure ‘aging’ in governmental policies as well as in ageism or self-related interpretations that may also take the form of its denial. Even seemingly imaginary subjective strategies with ‘age’ and ‘time’ have real consequences. Reasons enough to reflect on the specific concepts of ‘time’ that are implicit in concepts of ‘age’ and ‘aging’. After an introductory overview of the conceptual field of ‘time’, ‘age’ and ‘aging’, the interdisciplinary discussion will be deepened by experts on ‘time’ from biology, psychology and sociology.

Time, Age and Aging – A Conceptual Analysis
Jan Baars (University for Humanistic Studies, Utrecht, The Netherlands)
‘Age’ is usually measured in chronometric time, a form of time that is grounded in the movements of the solar system as its fundamental clock. However, human aging does not function as an intrinsic regular clock – nor does it function in synchrony with chronometric time. Therefore, measurements of ‘age’ fail to assess or represent phases of aging; they just measure durations. Not surprisingly, results of empirical research predominantly underline differences between people with the same ages (such as major differences in global life expectancies, cohort differences, inter-cohort differences based on social inequalities, life styles etc.). Hence, contexts and interpretations are constitutive of human aging and necessitate interdisciplinary cooperation between the empirical sciences, but also between the empirical sciences and the humanities.

Concepts of Time, Age and Aging Viewed by Systems Reliability Theory
L.A. Gavrilov, N.S. Gavrilova
Center on Aging, NORC at the University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637
Systems Reliability theory helps researchers to define more clearly what is aging: aging is defined as a phenomenon of increasing risk of failure with the passage of time (age). If the risk of failure is not increasing with age (the “old is as good as new” principle), then there is no aging in terms of reliability theory, even if the calendar age of a system is increasing. Thus, the regular and progressive changes over time per se do not constitute aging unless they produce some deleterious outcome (failures). Reliability theory of aging emphasizes fundamental difference between biomarkers of AGE (focused on the dating problem of accurate age determination) and biomarkers of AGING (focused on the performance problem of system deterioration over time). Reliability theory helps to clarify the difference between age (the passage of time) and aging (deterioration with age) – concepts that are often confused with each other.

Concepts of Subjective Time: How Far Can They Take Us in Aging Research?
Wahl, Hans-Wernera & Martina Michea
Department of Psychological Aging Research, Heidelberg University, Germany
Human beings are able to impose subjective concepts of time on their existence and development. However, the issue of time has found only limited attention in psychology, although a number of classic figures such as William James and Kurt Lewin have put much emphasis on the role of time. Most recently, Zimbardo and Boyd have made a strong case regarding the role of time orientation for psychological functioning and outcomes. When it comes to life-span development and aging, the time issue gets critical and very practical: What does it mean for development, when time is perceived as running out? As it seems, aging individuals have a multi-faceted ‘toolbox’ at their disposal to counteract the experience of aging and thus their increasingly reduced distance to death: They can for example ‘make’ themselves feel younger, re-organize their life investments due to a reduced future time perspective, or extent and enjoy their ‘lived life’ via life review and ‘celebrate’ the past. In this presentation, I will review a number of concepts behind such ‘time strategies’ and examine which of them have proven most useful so far at the empirical level.

Gender, Aging, and Rhythms of Time: From Social Structure to Personal Experience
Rick Settersten (Oregon State) and Gunhild Hagestad (Oslo)
Theories and research on aging often neglect two basic facts: that aging occurs in time that is socially structured, and that experiences with time are gendered. We explore how men and women think differently about the passage of time in adulthood and see different “time scripts” for men and women. Examples of questions raised are: What chronological ages signal middle age and old age? What transitions or changes mark various life phases? Does growing older increase the sense that one is “falling out of time”? Does physical aging have different social significance for men and women? Our presentation builds on social theory, survey data from the U.S. and Europe, and personal experiences of critical illness and family contingencies. These sources raise provocative questions about different realities of time, as well as complex issues tied to social context, from interdependent lives to social policy.