Chapter 7: Youth, Aging, and the Life Course

In Chapter 7, “Youth, Aging, and the Life Course,” we use both micro and macro perspectives to study the determinants and consequences of aging in rural contexts. This chapter focuses on two broad age groups of particular importance to rural community life—youth and young adults and older persons. Using a life course perspective integrated framework, we examine individual challenges facing youth, young adults, and elders. Factors such as dropping out of school, being a single parent, abusing drugs, incarceration, and working a job with no benefits all cumulates in later life. That said, we review how individual-level decisions are embedded within a greater context. At the macro-level, this chapter analyzes the dynamics of population aging and explore challenges rural communities frequently encounter, including the loss of youth and young adults due to rural out-migration, and the in-migration of older resident and/or aging-in-place.

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Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions

1. This chapter differentiates between individual aging and population aging. Why is this conceptual distinction important? Do you think individual aging and population aging interact with each other in rural or urban communities? How?

2. What are some of the major health challenges facing rural children, adults, and elderly persons? Do you think the health systems in most rural areas are adequate for dealing with these issues? How are they up to the job? What do they lack?

3. This chapter describes how migration into and out of rural communities tends to be “selective.” Describe who is more likely to move into rural areas and the groups that are most likely to leave and not be replaced. How does this selective migration affect the institutions and organizations providing essential services to rural residents?

4. This chapter highlights that most communities and community policies focus on population retention rather than on population attraction. What might be some initiatives or policies that would “pull” populations into rural communities?

5. What is the difference between a life cycle perspective on aging and a life course perspective on aging? How does a life course perspective help us to understand differences in social and economic wellbeing later in life?

6. Rural public school students tend to academically outperform their urban counterparts and yet college-going and college completion rates are much lower. What factors might account for these differences?

7. When we talk about economic advantage or disadvantage across different places, we often tend to not consider the role of migration. How might migration function to exacerbate either local disadvantage or local advantage?


1. Community Institution Key Informant Interviews. Many community institutions are “age-graded” i.e., they tend to serve clients of differing ages. For example, schools educate youth, vocational education provides programs for young adults and dislocated adults, medical care providers disproportionately serve youth and the elderly, public safety (including prisons) typically focus their efforts on young adults, etc. Divide the class into teams and assign each group a local facility or organization, such as: the school district, police department, local jail, hospital, etc. Have each team interview administrative staff in these facilities to examine the challenges of operating in rural communities. Discuss the findings in class.

2. Constructing and Comparing Population Pyramids. Go to American FactFinder and download age data for the state your school/college is located in and for the city and county where your school/college is located for 2000, 2010, and 2016 (or the latest year for which these data are available). Use the age and sex data to construct a population pyramid for all three populations in 2000, 2010, and 2016. Compare and contrast the age structures and how they have changed over the decade. What are some implications of these changes?

Constructing a population pyramid is a powerful way to visualize population structures. You can use most spreadsheet programs to make a population pyramid chart, including Excel, the spreadsheet function in Google Drive, as well as standard statistical programs with chart-building capacities, such as SPSS. There are also a number of tutorial materials that are available online to assist in making population pyramids. To find these tutorials, simply search in your preferred web-based search engine for “how to create a population pyramid.”

Click here for a downloadable PDF of instructions to follow. Once you’ve completed the chart, what does this chart suggest about the population composition in Tompkins County? What might account for this composition?

3. Interpreting Data in Tables and Charts. The charts in this PDF come from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Chartbook on Rural Healthcare. The data come from federally mandated data collection efforts that are used to draft the annual National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report. These charts break out access to health care by residential location along the urban-rural continuum. Examine the following charts. What kinds of conclusions can you draw from these data regarding health access and health disparities across the urban-rural continuum? What changes can you detect over time?