The role of the aged in primitive society

Yale University Press New Haven Published In Pages: ??
By Simmons, Leo W.


Explores 109 traits relating primarily to physical habitat, economy, political and social organization, and religion, to see how they relate to the role and treatment of the aged. General patterns were sought. Numerous ethnographic examples are given.


Sample Used Coded Data Comment
Ethnographic Reports

Hypotheses (15)

Domination by old men over family affairs and a corresponding enhancement of their security are accompanied by more complex types of maintenance, a shift from matrilineal to patrilineal descent, and elaboration of government, laws, property rights, and religion (213)Supported
Aged men had more success in marrying younger women in patriarchal societies, among herders, and more advance societies (211-212)Supported
In advanced societies, in patriarchal societies, and among herders and farmers, aged women have generally been at a distinct disadvantage in seeking young and vigorous husbands as co-laborers, providers and protectors in their old age (211)Supported
"Statistically, analysis reveals that the practice [killing the aged] has been most prevalent where the climate has been severe, where residence has been impermanent, and the food supply irregular; it has also been observed . . . among collectors, hunters, herders, and fishers" (240)Supported
The aged of either sex, with some preference for males, have regularly been in demand as sources of information and experience, especially where no better means of preservation and transmission of knowledge is available. They are particularly active as priests and shamans. Variables such as climate, residence, stage of maintenance and family system exercise no marked influence on these special prerogatives of the aged (175)Supported
"In short, organized priesthood appears as a product of more complex and highly developed social systems, and it is in these that the aged have found the best opportunities for the exercise of priestly functions"Supported
"Finally, with advancing economy, greater complexity and integration of social organization, and with a general improvement in societal stability the aged have tended to enjoy a steadily rising enhancement of status in civil and political affairs" (130)Supported
Participation by the aged in general activities is dependent upon climate, permanency of residence, basic maintenance activities and family organization. The opportunity of the aged to participate in subsistence activities increases among herders and agriculturalists. Aged males are more likely to contribute to infant and child care in matriarchal societies. Midwifery is practiced by aged women regardless of cultural determinants (102, 103, 104)Supported
". . . .in customs of food sharing with the aged there has been no significant difference in the treatment accorded to aged men and women (34)Supported
". . . A strong negative trend in communal sharing of food is correlated with many cultural traits usually associated with more highly developed societies"Supported
". . . irrespective of age, there has been greater access to communal food stores among collectors and fishers and relatively less among hunters, while pronounced negative trends appear among herding and agricultural peoples" (33)Supported
". . . in primitive societies there has been a pronounced tendency toward communal sharing of food, irrespective of age, in areas where the climate is severely cold or serious droughts are common" (32)Supported
". . . the aged among primitive peoples had greater opportunity for securing provisions froma common store in societies where group sharing of food was an established practice irrespective of age considerations than in societies where this was not the case" (32)Supported
Aged women have tended to acquire property rights in simple societies and within matrilineal types of family organization. Aged men have tended to gain greatest control of property in more complex societies and within patrilineal family organization (49)Supported
Prestige of the aged is negatively correlated with severe climate and impermanent residence. It is positively correlated for aged men and women where they have property rights and influence in government. Aged women enjoy more prestige in hunting-gathering and fishing societies and in societies where matrilineal family organization prevails. Aged men have high prestige where the food supply is constant, where family organization type is patrilineal, in herding and framing societies, and where they control secret societies for the initiation of the young (79, 80)Supported

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