The Propagation of Disorder in Later Life: Neighborhood, Home, and Body
This paper adopts a multi-level, dynamic perspective of physical disorder in the context of later life. Our main hypothesis is that breakdowns in order do not stay contained in a single spatial location; rather, disorder tends to propagate from neighborhood to home to people’s own bodies in the form of self-presentation. Analyses use systematic social observation data available in a national sample of adults aged 57-89, the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (N=2261). Longitudinal results support the hypothesized process. Living in disorderly neighborhoods is associated with a growth in household and embodied disorder, and disorderly homes beget increasingly disordered dress and hygiene. We argue that the line between order and disorder is a common concern across diverse theoretical perspectives in sociology and social gerontology and one that calls for renewed scholarly attention. Living amidst disorderly conditions, moreover, has important implications for older adults, a segment of the population especially vulnerable to their physical environments. The interconnection of socio-spatial and embodied space puts seniors exposed to contextual disadvantage in jeopardy of yet more contextual disadvantage, an important chain of risks in the experience of late-life inequality.
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