Social statuses in later life: a study of the effect of retirement in Germany today
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The thesis presents analysis on four types of social statuses (as defined by Linton and Merton), namely volunteer, carer for an adult, child carer, and friend, in the second half of life in Germany based on the German Ageing Survey. In reference to the cultural sociological theories of Gerhard Schulze, the impact of retirement as life event on older adults’ lifestyle and likelihood of adopting these statuses is critically discussed. The use of the category of ‘old adult’ is put into question. It is found that between 1996 and 2008 the share of volunteers and of people spending time on leisure activities in company has increased in all age groups in the German population aged 50 and over. Carers, on the other hand, showed stable numbers with decreasing time investment, and the share of people looking after children was on the decline. All social statuses were represented in different numbers in Eastern and Western Germany, with Eastern Germany showing less engagement especially in volunteering and social leisure activities. Possible reasons for this are discussed. The volunteer and friend statuses were selected as dependent variables for regression models of the influence of retirement. The models based on cross-sectional as well as the models based on panel data showed that there was at best a marginal influence of retirement on a person’s likelihood of volunteering or spending leisure time with friends and relatives. With Gerhard Schulze’s theory of the ‘event society’, it is argued that the reason for the increase of volunteers and of people more actively cultivating their friend status amongst older Germans is that they no longer significantly differ in their value orientations and lifestyles from younger adults and that therefore the persistent founding of research and social policy on age categories is no longer a valid approach.