Thinking about Aging: Experience, Identity and Meaning among an Elderly Population in the Philippines


The paper aims to know the idioms that the elderly use to describe and make sense of their experience of aging. It is based on ethnographic data gathered through the in-depth interview of 30 normal and community dwelling elderly in Marikina City, Metro Manila, Philippines in 2012-2013. The participants were chosen through compulsive sampling from the registry of 1385 senior citizens screened free from dementia. Their age ranged from 60 to 90 years, regardless of social class, gender, ethnicity, religion and other indices of difference. The interviews were transcribed, verbatim, and coded for the idioms, their meanings and contexts in which the elderly used them. The elderly communicate in idioms, which maybe basic to denote identity that obtains from aging or secondary in that they develop from the basic ones and help define identity further. The idioms relate to either continuity or discontinuity theory of aging or help rationalize what it means to be human and elderly.

Share and Cite:

Esteban, R. (2015) Thinking about Aging: Experience, Identity and Meaning among an Elderly Population in the Philippines. Advances in Aging Research, 4, 133-153. doi: 10.4236/aar.2015.45015.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Birren, J.E. (1958) Aging and Psychological Adjustment. Review of Educational Research, 28, 475-490.
[2] Kaufman, S. (1981) Cultural Components of Identity in Old Age: A Case Study. Ethos, 9, 51-87.
[3] Gems, D. (2003) Is More Life Always Better? The New Biology of Aging and the Meaning of Life. The Hastings Center Report, 33, 31-39.
[4] Miguel, P.A. (2005) Evolution of Consciousness and Evolution of Life. MLN, 120, 1156-1167.
[5] McHugh, K.E. (2000) The “Ageless Self”? Emplacement of Identities in Sun Belt Retirement Communities. Journal of Aging Studies, 14, 103-115.
[6] McPherson, B.D. (1990) Aging as a Social Process: An Introduction to Individual and Population Aging. Butterworths, Toronto.
[7] Hirshorn, B.A. (1991) Introducing the Demography of Aging: Relating Population Processes to the Aging Society. Teaching Sociology, 19, 231-236.
[8] Katz, S.H. (1978) Anthropological Perspectives on Aging. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 438, 1-12.
[9] Robertson, A.F. (1996) The Development of Meaning: Ontogeny and Culture. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 2, 591-610.
[10] Ingold, T. (2006) Becoming Persons: Consciousness and Sociality in Human Evolution. In: Moore, H. and Sanders, T., Eds., Anthropology in Theory: Issues in Epistemology, Blackwell Publishing, Malden, 180-192.
[11] Uhlenberg, P. (1992) Population Aging and Social Policy. Annual Review of Sociology, 18, 449-474.
[12] Kirk, D. (1996) Demographic Transition Theory. Population Studies, 50, 361-387.
[13] Coale, A.J. (1984) The Demographic Transition. The Pakistan Development Review, 23, 531-552.
[14] Zhao, Z.W. (1996) The Demographic Transition in Victorian England and Changes in English Kinship Networks. Continuity and Change, 11, 243-273.
[15] Davis, K. (1945) The World Demographic Transition. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, 237, 1-11.
[16] Mosk, C. (1978) Demographic Transition in Japan, 1920-1960. The Journal of Economic History, 37, 655-674.
[17] Tiglao, T. and Cruz, W. (1975) Seven Decades of Public Health in the Philippines, 1898-1872. Southeast Asia Medical Information Center, Tokyo.
[18] Bongaarts, J. and Bulatao, R.A. (1999) Completing the Demographic Transition. Population and Development Review, 25, 515-529.
[19] Lee, J. (2010) Data Sets on Pensions and Health: Data Collection and Sharing for Policy Design. International Social Security Review, 63, 197-222.
[20] Kim, K. and Lee, Y. (2008) Comparative Analysis of Strategies for an Ageing Society, with Special Reference to Pension and Employment Policies. International Journal of Social Welfare, 17, 225-235.
[21] Liang, Y. and Lu, P. (2014) Medical Insurance Policy Organized by Chinese Government and the Equity Health Problems of the Elderly: Longitudinal Comparison Based on Effect of New Cooperative Medical Scheme on Health of Rural Elderly in 22 Provinces and Cities. International Journal for Equity in Health, 13, 37.
[22] Midsundstad, T. and Bogen, H. (2014) Active Aging Policies between Individual Needs and Collective Goals: A Study of Aging Policies and Practices in Norway. Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies, 4, 139-158.
[23] Yamane, D. (2000) Narrative and Religious Experience. Sociology of Religion, 61, 171-189.
[24] Ferrater-Mora, J. and Cohn, P. (1970) The Language of Religious Experience. International Journal of Philosophy and Religion, 1, 22-33.
[25] Goffman, E. (1986) Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience. Northwestern University Press, Boston.
[26] Esteban, R. (2012-2013) Development of the QOL-APO: A Measure of Quality of Life among the Filipino Elderly from the Perspectives of the Elderly, Family and Healthcare Providers in the Philippines. Research Project Funded by the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD).
[27] Dominguez, J.C., Soriano, J.R., Magpantay, C.D., Orquisa, M.G.S., Solis, W.M., Reandelar, M.F. and Joson, M.L.C. (2014) Early Detection of Mild Alzheimer’s Disease in Filipino Elderly: Validation of the Montreal Cognitive Assessment-Philippines (MoCA-P). Advances in Alzheimer’s Disease, 3, 160-167.
[28] Strauss, A. and Corbin, J. (1994) Grounded Theory Methodology: An Overview. In: Denzin, N. and Lincoln, Y., Eds., Handbook of Qualitative Research, Sage Publication, London, 273-285.
[29] Kaufman, S. (1986) The Ageless Self: Sources of Meaning in Late Life. University of Wisconsin, Madison.
[30] Butler, R.N. (1986) Dispelling Ageism: The Cross-Cutting Intervention. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, 503, 138-147.
[31] Ilmarinen, J. (1997) Aging and Work—Coping with Strengths and Weaknesses. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health, 23, 3-5.
[32] Tuomi, K., Ilmarinen, J.K., Seitsamo, J., Huuhtanen, P., Martikainen, R., Nygård, C., et al. (1997) Summary of the Finnish Research Project (1981-1992) to Promote the Health and Work Ability of Aging Workers. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health, 23, 66-71.
[33] Atchley, R. (1989) A Continuity Theory of Normal Aging. The Gerontologist, 29, 183-190.
[34] Traphagan, J.W. (1998) Contesting the Transition to Old Age in Japan. Ethnology, 37, 333-350.
[35] Ayabe, M., Yahiro, T., Yoshioka, M., Higuchi, H., Higaki., Y. and Tanaka, H. (2009) Objectively Measured Age-Related Changes in the Intensity Distribution of Daily Physical Activity in Adults. Journal of Physical Activity & Health, 6, 419-425.
[36] Koren, C. (2011) Continuity and Discontinuity: The Case of Second Couplehood in Old Age. The Gerontologist, 51, 687-698.
[37] Butler, R.N. (1983) An Overview of Research on Aging and the Status of Gerontology Today. The Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly Health and Society, 61, 351-361.
[38] Butler, R.N. (1989) Dispelling Ageism: The Cross-Cutting Intervention. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 503, 138-147.
[39] Kennedy, J. (2001) Unmet and Undermet Need for Activities of Daily Living and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living Assistance among Adults with Disabilities: Estimates from the 1994 and 1995 Disability Follow-Back Surveys. Medical Care, 39, 1305-1312.
[40] Smith, D.W., Hogan, A.J. and Rohrer, J.E. (1987) Activities of Daily Living as Quantitative Indicators of Nursing Effort. Medical Care, 25, 120-130.
[41] Cornwell, B., Laumann, E.O. and Schumm, L.P. (2008) The Social Connectedness of Older Adults: A National Profile. American Sociological Review, 73, 185-203.
[42] Esteban, R., Dominguez, J., Yumul, J., Natividad, B., Magpantay, C., Soriano, J.R., et al. (2013) Quality of Life among the Filipino Elderly: Glimpses from a Community. Philippine Neuroscience, 1, 15-24.
[43] Cornwell, E.Y. and Waite, L.J. (2009) Social Disconnectedness, Perceived Isolation, and Health among Older Adults. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 50, 31-48.
[44] Versey, H.S. and Newton, N.J. (2013) Generativity and Productive Pursuits: Pathways to Successful Aging in Late Midlife African American and White Women. Journal of Adult Development, 20, 185-196.
[45] Seitsamo, J. and Klockars, M. (1997) Aging and Changes in Health. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health, 23, 27-35.
[46] Moura, A., Madureira, J., Alija, P., Fernandes, J.C., Oliveira, J.G., Lopez, M., et al. (2015) Effect of Aging in the Perception of Health-Related Quality of Life in End-Stage Renal Disease Patients under Online Hemodiafiltration. Aging and Disease, 6, 17-25.
[47] Mandai, T., Ohashi, H., Ishii, K., Ono, M., Kishi, K., Fukushima, J., et al. (1997) Quality of Life and Disease Acceptance in Patients with Haemodialysis, Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery and Mammary Cancer. Quality of Life Research, 6, 688.
[48] Arevalo-Rodriguez, I., Segura, O., Solà, I., Bonfill, X., Sanchez, E. and Alonso-Coello, P. (2014) Diagnostic Tools for Alzheimer’s Disease Dementia and Other Dementias: An Overview of Diagnostic Test Accuracy Systematic Reviews. BMC Neurology, 14, 183.
[49] Tom, S., Hubbard, R., Crane, P., Haneuse, S., Bowen, J., McCormick, W. and Larson, E. (2015) Characterization of Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease in an Older Population: Updated Incidence and Life Expectancy with and without Dementia. American Journal of Public Health, 105, 408-413.
[50] Mussele, S., Bekelaar, K., Le Bastard, N., Vermeiren, Y., Saerens, J., Somers, N., et al. (2013) Prevalence and Associated Behavioral Symptoms of Depression in Mild Cognitive Impairment and Dementia due to Alzheimer’s Disease. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatric, 28, 947-958.
[51] Passmore, M., Ho, A. and Gallagher, R. (2012) Behavioral Psychological Symptoms in Moderate to Severe Alzheimer’s Disease: A Palliative Care Approach Emphasizing Recognition of Personhood and Preservation of Dignity. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 29, 1-13.
[52] Walter, J., Morris, J., Swier-Vosnos, A. and Pliskin, N. (2014).Effects of Severe Dementia on a Symptom Validity Measure. Clinical Neuropsychologist, 28, 1197-1208.
[53] Lee, S., Richie, C., Yaffe, K., Cenzer, I. and Barnes, D. (2014) Clinical Index to Predict Progression from Mild Cognitive Impairment to Dementia Due to Alzheimer’s Disease. PLoS ONE, 9, 1-15.
[54] Osberg, L. (2005) Work and Well-Being in an Aging Society. Canadian Public Policy/Analyse de Politiques, 31, 413-420.
[55] Seitsamo, J. and Ilmarinen, J. (1997) Life-Style, Aging and Work Ability among Active Finnish Workers in 1981-1992. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health, 23, 20-26.
[56] Smuts, B. (2006) What Are Friends For? In: Courtis, M., Ed., Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Issues in Physical Anthropology, McGrwhill/Dushkin, Dubuque, 163-171.
[57] Huxhold, O., Miche, M. and Schüz, B. (2014) Benefits of Having Friends in Older Ages: Effects of Informal Social Networks. Journal of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 69, 366-375.
[58] Kaufman, S.R. (1994) Old Age, Disease, and the Discourse on Risk: Geriatric Assessment in US Health. Anthropology Quarterly, New Series, 8, 430-447.
[59] Flynn, C. and McCormack, B. (2010) Stimulating the Wrinkling and Aging of Skin with Multi-Layer Finite Element. Journal of Biomechanics, 43, 442-448.
[60] Kalichman, L., Livshits, G. and Kobyliansky, E. (2006) Association between Morbidity and Skeletal Biomarkers of Biological Aging. Human Biology, 78, 77-88.
[61] Boyd, S.L. and Treas, J. (1989) Family Care of the Frail Elderly: A New Look at “Women in the Middle”. Women’s Studies Quarterly, 17, 66-74.
[62] Avlund, K. (2013) Fatigue in Older Populations. Fatigue: Biomedicine, Heath and Behavior, 1, 43-63.
[63] Edgerton, T. (2013) Self-Reported Aging-Related Fatigue: A Concept Description and Its Relevance to Physical Therapist Practice. Physical Therapy, 93, 1403-1413.
[64] Fried, L.P., Tangen, C.M., Walston, J., Newman, A.B., Hirsch, C., Gottdiener, J., et al. (2001) Frailty in Older Adults. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 56, M146-M157.
[65] Liu, H. (2015) Aging and Chronic Diseases as Independent Causative Factor for Death and Programmed Onset of Chronic Disease. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 60, 178-182.
[66] Adeniyi, A.F., Ogwumiki, O.O., Akinwonmi, A.O. and Fasanmade, A.A. (2014) Links between Adiposity, Physical Activity and Self-reported Fatigue in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. International Journal of Diabetes in Developing Countries, 34, 144-149.
[67] Ku, G.M.V. and Kegels, G. (2014) A Cross-Sectional Study of the Differences in Diabetes Knowledge, Attitudes, Perceptions and Self-Care Practices as Related to Assessment of Chronic Illness Care among People with Diabetes Consulting in a Family Physician-Led Hospital-Based First Line Health Service and Local Government Health Unit-Based Health Centers in the Philippines. Asia Pacific Family Medicine, 13, 1-18.
[68] Stone, R.I. (1989) The Feminization of Poverty among the Elderly. Women’s Studies Quarterly, 17, 20-34.
[69] Smeeding, T.M. and Sandström, S. (2005) Poverty and Income in Old Age: A Cross-National View of Low Income Older Women. Working Paper No. 398, Luxemburg Income Study Working Papers Series, Luxemburg Income Study (LIS), Luxembourg, 18 p.
[70] Wenger, G.C., Davies, R., Shantamasebi, S. and Scott, A. (1996) Social Isolation and Loneliness in Old Age: Review and Model Refinement. Ageing and Society, 16, 333-358.
[71] Hutchison, J. and Smith, A., Eds. (1996) Ethnicity. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
[72] Kuper, A. (1999) Among the Anthropologists: History and Context in Anthropology. The Athlone Press, London.
[73] Alcina, I.F., Kobak, C.J. and Gutierrez, L. (2004) History of the Bisayan People in the Philippine Islands. 2 Volumes, UST Publishing House, Manila.
[74] Frake, C.O. (1955) Social Organization and Shifting Agriculture among the Sindangan Subanun. Ph.D. Thesis, Yale University, New Haven.
[75] Mednick, M. (1965) Encampment on the Lake: The Social Organization of a Moslem-Philippine (Moro). Ph.D. Thesis, Yale University, New Haven.
[76] Jocano, F.L. (1968) Sulod Society: A Study in the Kinshp System and Social Organization of a Mountain People of Central Panay. University of the Philippines Press, Quezon City.
[77] Go, S.P. (1994) The Present and Future of the Family in the Philippines. International Journal on World Peace, 11, 61-75.
[78] Sun, J. (2013) Chinese Older Adults Taking Care of Grandchildren: Practices and Policies for Productive Aging. Aging Institute, 38, 58-70.
[79] Williams, L. and Domingo, L.J. (1993) The Social Status of Elderly Women and Men within the Filipino Family. Journal of Marriage and Family, 55, 415-426.
[80] Casterline, J., Williams, L., Hermalin, A., Cheng, M., Chayovan, N., Cheung, P., et al. (1992) Differences in the Living Arrangements of the Elderly in Four Asian Countries: The Interplay of Constraints and Preferences. Comparative Study of the Elderly in Asia: Research Reports, 30 April-2 May 1992, Population Studies Center, Ann Arbor, 50 p.
[81] Abenoja, M.K. (1990) World’s Apart? Gender Divide in the Conditions of Elderly Filipinos. Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society, 18, 275-290.
[82] Kim, I.K. and Kim, C. (2003) Patterns of Family Support and the Quality of Life of the Elderly. Social Indicators Research, 62, 437-454.
[83] Hermalin, A., Ofstedal, M.B. and Lee, M.-L. (1992) Characteristics of Children and Intergenerational Transfers. Research Report No. 92-21, Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America, Denver, 30 April-2 May 1992, 50 p.
[84] Zhang, X.L. and Huang, D.Y. (2007) A Temporal Analysis of the Consciousness of Filial Piety. Frontiers of Philosophy in China, 2, 309-335.
[85] Kaut, C. (1961) Utang Na Loob: A System of Contractual Obligation among Tagalogs. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, 17, 256-272.
[86] Hollnsteiner, M.R. (1961) Reciprocity in the Lowland Philippines. Philippine Studies, 9, 387-413.
[87] Brandewie, E. (1973) Family Size and Kinship Pressures in the Philippines. Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society, 1, 6-18.
[88] Ligo-Ralph, V. (1990) Some Theses Concerning the Filipino Value System. Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society, 18, 149-161.
[89] Hess, B.B. and Waring, J.M. (1978) Changing Patterns of Aging and Family Bonds in Later Life. The Family Coordinator, 27, 303-314.
[90] Siebert, D.C., Mutran, E.J. and Reitzes, D.C. (1999) Friendship and Social Support: The Importance of Role Identity to Aging Adults. Social Work, 44, 522-533.
[91] Baskin, C. and Davey, C.J. (2015) Grannies, Elders, and Friends: Aging Aboriginal Women in Toronto. Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 58, 46-65.
[92] Ayuso Sánchez, L. (2013) Personal Network Supporting Widowhood in Spain. Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and /Social Sciences, 68, 644-652.
[93] Warburton, J. and Grassman, E. (2011) Variations in Older People’s Social and Productive Ageing Activities across Different Social Welfare Regimes. International Journal of Social Welfare, 20, 180-191.
[94] World Values Survey Homepage (2009)
[96] Donnelly, E. and Hinterlong, J. (2009) Changes in Social Participation and Volunteer Activity among Recently Widowed Older Adults. The Gerontologist, 50, 158-169.
[97] Cornwell, B. (2009) Network Bridging Potential in Late Life: Life-Course Experiences and Social Network Position. Journal of Aging, 21, 129-154.
[98] Welte, T. (1994) Individual Preferences and Advance Directives. Hastings Center Report: Special Supplement, 24, S5-S8.
[99] Franklin, N. (2009) Lifestyle and Successful Aging. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 3, 6-11.
[100] Weiss, P. (1963) Religious Experience. The Review of Metaphysics, 17, 3-17.
[101] Ferris, A.L. (2002) Religion and the Quality of Life. Journal of Happiness Studies, 3, 199-215.
[102] Idler, E.L. (1995) Religion, Health, and Nonphysical Senses of Self. Social Forces, 74, 683-704.
[103] Hadaway, C.K. (1978) Life Satisfaction and Religion: A Reanalysis. Social Forces, 57, 636-643.
[104] Idler, E., McLaughlin, J. and Stanislav, K. (2009) Religion and Quality of Life in the Late Year of Life. Journal of Gerontology: Social Science, 64b, 528-537.
[105] Seki, K. (2002) Fiesta, Patron Saint, and the Concept of Gahum: A Preliminary Study of the Folk Notion of Power among Cebuano Migrant Fisherfolk. Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society, 30, 111-137.
[106] Peterson, W. (2007) Holy Week in the “Heart of the Philippines”: Spirituality, Theatre, and Community in Marinduque’s Moriones Festival. Asian Theatre Journal, 24, 309-337.
[107] Tiatco, A.P. and Bonifacio-Ramolete, A. (2008) Cutud’s Ritual of Nailing on the Cross: Performance of Pain and Suffering. Asian Theatre Journal, 25, 58-76.
[108] Mojares, R.B. (2002) Stalking the Virgin: The Genealogy of the Cebuano Virgin of Guadalupe. Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society, 30, 138-171.
[109] Heydari-Fard, K.J., Bagheri-Nesami, M., Shirvani, M. and Mohammadpour, R.-A. (2014) Association between Quality of Life and Religious Coping in Older People. Nursing Older People, 26, 24-29.
[110] Balgos, L. (1998) Mga Ritwal, Sumpa, at Panata: Kalipunan Ng Tatlong Maikling Nobela: Sumpa, Ritwal, Panata. University of the Philippines Press, Quezon City.
[111] Overall, C. (2006) Old Age and Ageism, Impairment and Ableism: Exploring the Conceptual and Material Connections. NWSA Journal, 18, 126-137.
[112] Mendes, F. (2013) Active Aging: A Right or Duty? Health Sociology Review, 22, 174-185.
[113] Connel, M. and Gibson, G. (1997) Racial, Ethnic, and Cultural Differences in Dementia Care Giving: Review and Analysis. The Gerontologist, 37, 355-364.
[114] Nahemow, N. (1979) Residence, Kinship and Social Isolation among the Aged Bagenda. Journal of Marriage and Family, 41, 171-183.
[115] Demerath, N.J. and Roof, W.C. (1976) Religion—Recent Strands in Research. Annual Review of Sociology, 2, 19-33.
[116] Campbell, A., Converse, P.E. and Rodgers, W. (1976) The Quality of American Life. Russell Sage, New York.

Copyright © 2023 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.