Age identity and adjustment patterns in later life : a qualitative study of retired secondary school teachers and manual workers in Hong Kong

  • Kit Ying, Connie YONG

Student thesis: MPhil Thesis (Lingnan)


With escalating heterogeneity of the older population due to extending healthy life expectancy, chronological age is decreasingly likely to be an appropriate discriminator of social groups among the diverse population. It may be more fruitful to understand how older people actually feel and live their lives than merely using chronological age as a categorizing variable. Therefore, the present research investigates individual age identity which may provide a more realistic indicator of ageing in the life course. It may also underpin many behavioral phenomena.

Age identity focuses on how an individual perceives himself or herself in terms of age. Previous studies have shown mixed findings between age identity and a number of variables, such as chronological age, gender, socio-economic status and health status. However, relatively few studies have gone beyond the determinants of age identity to explore the question of how age identity affects the adjustment process in later life. Self-perception is often cited as one of the components of both physical and psychological well-being, so it is also important from this perspective. It seems a good adjustment can contribute to a successful later life, and the study of age identity, as a specific dimension of self-perception, its determinants as well as consequences, may be crucial in such adjustment. Thus, age identity and adjustment form a timely research agenda and they grow to be vital topics for policy and service delivery.

To study the relationship between age identity and the adjustment process, in other words, how people feel about themselves and whether they consider themselves to be old, face-to-face in-depth case interviews were conducted with 12 retired secondary school teachers and 10 retired manual workers. Results from this qualitative study show that different people hold different age identity irrespective of chronological age. Retired secondary school teachers in general reported younger age identity than the retired manual workers, mainly due to their previous job nature, more flexible retirement and greater work continuity after retirement. Three different patterns of adjustment were identified: assimilation, accommodation and mixed. Those with a younger age identity tend to take up assimilation while those with an older age identity were more likely to assume accommodation. It was also found that previous life experience, significant others and individuals perceptions of age and retirement are important in affecting age identity and adjustment patterns.

In addition to its contribution to gerontology, this study of age identity and adjustment pattern in later life among different occupational groups can help policy-makers understanding of the needs of older persons. Knowledge of different age identification and adjustment patterns can help guide them on how to assist the diverse and expanding older population in maintaining a meaningful later life. Policy makers can thus give individual care and make personally suited interventions, with reference to one’s condition, or at least that of a particular segment of the older population, rather than their chronological age. It is also hoped that the current research will contribute in terms of guiding policy-makers on adjustment strategies design for the expanding older population. It may shed light on preventive measures by encouraging individuals to activate their own resources rather than depending on public social and health policies, many of which focus on needier older persons.
Date of Award2007
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Sociology and Social Policy
SupervisorDavid Rosser PHILLIPS (Supervisor) & Wing Kin Kenneth LAW (Supervisor)

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