Aging and Ethnicity. Toward an Interface by Leo Driedger

By Leo Driedger

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To what extent do the current cohorts of ethnic elders still use their ethnic mother tongue? Almost all of the elderly of charter group origin use their mother tongue at home (although there is a slight decline for the French). Most African elderly either came from the United States or from former British colonies where English was their mother tongue. The Chinese and Portuguese elderly are still using their ethnic tongue at home. The Portuguese elderly came more recently and are mostly foreign-born.

In Canada, pluralism is becoming more popular than assimilation. Proponents argue that many groups retain a separate Perspectives on Aging and Ethnicity 29 identity and do not assimilate; they live side by side, many of them in relatively harmonious coexistence. The author of this view of pluralism was a Harvard educated philosopher of Jewish immigrant stock named Kallen. In 1924, he argued that while there are many kinds of social relationships and identities that can be chosen voluntarily, no one may choose his or her ancestry (see Newman 1973).

Others have assessed the model through comparisons of different societies and report a variety of findings. Palmore and Manton (1973) studied 31 countries in various stages of modernization (using indicators of economic technology, urbanization, and education). They found that those societies that were more modern, according to occupation and education indicators, accorded relatively high status to their elderly. In response, Cowgill (1974) argues that the detrimental effects to the status and interests of the aged in the early period of modernization may "bottom out" in later periods.

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