How Different Cultures Treat the Elderly? A Comparison of Western and Eastern Cultures
Based on the United States and China Case Studies
Respect for the elders is an idea that has been advocated by members of society. An
examination of the universal experience of human beings such as aging shows how it is helpful
and interesting to have an understanding of how people in different regions of the world and time
approach the issue. Research has indicated that today there is long life span for people across the
globe because of the improved healthcare, technology, and nutrition, which means that the
number of the elderly is on the rise (Giles, Noels, & Williams, 2003) . The elderly population
comes with certain incredible possibilities but also set of new problems such how we treat and
care for them. As much as aging is a biological process, it is also a cultural one in that different
cultures treat the elderly differently, if a comparison of the cultures of the West and the East are
General Understanding of the Western and Eastern Cultures
The world over the years has been divided into two main cultures, with the subcultures
fitting into these two main groups. There is the Western culture that is viewed to consist of the
majority of the European countries, America, and some countries in Africa. The Eastern culture
is most of those cultures in the East such as China, Japan, India. However, countries like Russia
and some few African countries such as Tanzania also have cultures that are considered Eastern
The Western culture that is based on capitalist thinking views the society and family to be
a means in which people can achieve economic prominence. In such families, individuals during
their youthful stage and as young adults are always valued because of their economic viability to
acquire wealth compared to the elderly who are seen as a burden (Menkin & Reyes, 2017) . In
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such cultures, the family bond reduces as one attains old age because one is considered to be
economically unproductive. Families in this culture tend to reduce the burden they considered to
be brought by the elderly through creation of nursing care facilities where the old are taken and
are cared for so that they do not burden the others members of the family with attention as they
In burials of the elderly in Western cultures, the somber moods that are always expected
when someone passes on are not there, as they have lost the bond and loves with the elderly.
Such ceremonies are always short, as they feel that you had served your time in creating progress
and it is time to have a rest and let the others take the mantle and continue with the work of
In Eastern cultures, the situation is different. In the East, people are more communal and
family-oriented. It means that people have more respect for the elderly, as children are given the
mandate of taking care of their aged parents in their own homes until their die (Kornadt, Voss, &
Rothermund, 2019) . Even after death some members of the communities still value such people
as they considered them ancestor spirits, thus worthy of spiritual devotion. In these cultures, the
elderly are considered valuable and respected in that they view the experience of such people is
worth passing on to future generations. The elderly are always consulted in terms of crisis as
they are considered to have some pieces of advice that are helpful because they have gone
through a lot during their life.
The attachment that young people attach to the elderly in the Eastern culture is amazing,
as the love and care are such intense. The send of the elderly after death is such emotional and
somber. It shows how people feel when an elderly has died. They feel that an important part of
the family has left and no one can fill the gap that has been left by such people. The speeches by
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the people who knew such elderly describe them in manner that shows how respectful and
valuable they were considered and are still being considered even after their time on earth. There
is also remembrance of the death on periodic basis to celebrate their lives.
Case Study of the United States of America and China to Compare Western and Eastern
United States of America
The U.S which is a capitalist country is focused more on youth and individualism. Therefore,
there is less how for respect for aging parents and extended families. Middle-aged Americans,
the ones that refer to themselves as “Me Generation” are busy with building their careers and
raising children that they often tend to weed their aging parents out of their institutions (Moon,
Since Americans tend to shun elderly out of their institutions, the government through
Human and Health Service Department has come up with elaborate policy on the elderly, which
includes creating of nursing care facilities that is aimed at providing for the needed care for the
elderly, as members of the family have time to provide adequate care for them. A majority of the
elderly in the U.S are in nursing care facilities with few children choosing to live with their
parents when they get old as they lifestyle and goals cannot provide the time to take care of the
elderly who require special care.
Although the young generation cares little about the elderly, the elderly in U.S is
considered to be healthier and happier than ever before, regardless of the stereotyping and
prejudice that they face from other members of the society. However, there is an unfortunate
habit where the young members of society create perception about people with wrinkles and gray
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hair as old. The U.S has been argued to be one of the countries in the world where the elderly in
society have been given little respect that they would deserve.
With the negative connotations of the U.S towards the elderly, there are certainly positive
aspects. There are numerous reforms that the U.S is taking towards achieving respect and dignity
for the elderly. With the increasing number of baby boomers reaching the elderly age, there is
improved appreciation of their dignity and role in building the successful society that the United
States is today. Many people are engaged in volunteer work at nursing centers to take care of the
needs of the elderly. Measures are also taken by members of the society to honor the elderly for
the impact they left to the remaining members of the society. It is for this reason that there are
two days that are set aside to celebrate the elderly, that is Old Americans Month and Senior
The measures show the improved change of perception regarding the elderly in American
society. Older adults are currently being engaged in telling their life stories with hope that such
might instill discipline and responsibility in a country where leisure activities have taken center
stage. The U.S is also focusing on providing preventive care for the elderly through its numerous
insurance policies and healthcare plans. Senior living communities have also been improved to
ensure that the last days of the elderly as made as comfortable as possible, as thank you gesture
for their time spent on earth.
In 2013, a new “Elderly Rights Law” was passed in China that gives the adult children of caring
for their elderly relatives, and often visitation of the elderly parents regardless of the distances
that they are from their parents (Dionigi, 2015) . Some of the salient features of the laws include
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enforcement mechanisms to ensure that each person that has obligations under this law
undertakes his obligation. It also provides for punishment for those who fail to comply with the
provisions of the law. In particular, adult children who to visit their elderly parents commit a
crime and face legal punishment which ranges from jail time to fines.
China being part of the Eastern culture, values family as the functional unity of the
society. In recent times, society has eroded some of the traditional values attached to family
creating complication with the relationship that has existed over times between parents and their
children. As part of the Confucian tradition, China prioritizes on the family units, which includes
respecting and valuing of elders. The industrialization that the country has been facing has
pushed children away from their parents as they migrate to urban areas leaving their parents in
the rural setups, and they find it difficult to pick up and move (Seegert, 2014) . The Elderly
Rights Law is to ensure that the changing economic situation of the country does not erode some
of the long-standing tradition on how to treat and care for the elderly.
In China, the elderly are respected, valued and care for by all members of the society. As
it has been seen, respect for the elderly is part of actual law, and elders have a right to sue their
adult children if they fail to provide financial and emotional support. Culture of respect and
caring for the elders has also been inculcated into the business arena in that business
organizations are required to create time for employees to visit their parents. The growing
population of the elderly in the country, it is important that elderly are taken care of to avoid
jeopardizing the economy.
The value and respect for the elderly in Chinese society goes far even after death. The
death in the country and many Eastern cultures are handled with creating honor for the time and
contribution they brought to society during their productive years as youths and young adults.
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The Eastern culture is premised on the idea that respect and honor are not only meant to be
accorded to the elderly when they are alive but also after they pass on. As have been mentioned
earlier, there are cultural spiritual associations that have been given for according such respect
even after death.
Although the obligations under the laws is a driving factor regarding care, respecting, and
show of dignity towards the elderly, the Chinese culture has insisted on the respect and valuing
of the elderly. This has made a habit of kindness and honor of the elderly members of the society
is normal cultural life in China.
In Western culture, aging and elderly has been looked down upon because of the
capitalist view of the society and the productiveness of the elderly. The situation has been seen to
make the aging to engage in all sort of activities such as plastic surgery, utilization of skin
creams, and getting rid of grays to ensure they look as young as possible to avoid the possible
societal stereotypes that come with aging. The Eastern culture has been noted to be appreciative
of the transitions that individuals undertake in their biological life regarding aging, thus creates
respect and values their elders making it an integral part of the societal existence. It has also been
seen that the Western cultures are taking a stride towards changing their attitude towards the
loving, respecting, and caring for the elderly. People must accept and appreciate that aging is a
biological process that needs to be embraced.
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Dionigi, R. A. (2015). Stereotypes of Aging: Their Effects on the Health of Older Adults.
Journal of Geriatrics.
Giles, H., Noels, K. A., & Williams, A. (2003). Intergenerational Communication Across
Cultures: Young People's Perceptions of Conversations with Family Elders, Non-family
Elders and Same-Age Peers. Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology, 18(1):1-32.
Kornadt, A. E., Voss, P., & Rothermund, K. (2019). Preparation for Old Age: The Role of
Cultural Context and Future Perceptions. The Journals of Gerontology, 74(4):609-619.
Menkin, J. A., & Reyes, C. E. (2017). Racial/Ethnic Differences in Expectations Regarding
Aging Among Older Adults. The Gerontologist, 57(2):138-148.
Moon, A. (2000). Perceptions of Elder Abuse among Various Cultural Groups: Similarities and
Differences. Sociology and Anthropology Journals.
Seegert, L. (2014, September 4). Cultural perceptions of aging affect health status, caregiving.
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