How We Honor Age Around The World

Given North America has an unhealthy obsession with youth (hello, people with actual experience and wisdom are the teachers in this life), we thought we would explore how other cultures honor their elders.

Learning from our elders should be a priority, and while the rest of the world greatly value & celebrate their elders, the US has seriously lagged behind, and it shows. Afterall, history repeats itself, and in the grand search for the meaning of life, who better to turn to for advice? These cultural perspectives can have a huge effect on our experience of getting older and the elderly are commonly removed from the community, which then in turn affects the soul of a culture. We can learn a lot from others.

**There are SO many more countries to add to this list, this was just a small sampling and will be updated.

Native Americans
There are over 500 Native American nations, and each has its own traditions and attitudes toward aging and elderly care. But in many tribal communities, elders are respected for their wisdom and life experiences. Within Native American families, it’s common for the elders to be expected to pass down their learnings to younger members of the family

Many Indians live in joint family units, with the elders acting as the head of the household. The elders are supported by the younger members of the family and they in turn play a key role in raising their grandchildren. It is an Indian tradition for youngsters to touch the feet of their elders, which is known as ‘a mark of love, and respect for them, and a request for their blessings’. Also, disrespecting the elders of the family or sending them to an old-age home has a social stigma in India.

In China, an ‘Elderly Rights Law’ was introduced to inform adult children that they ‘should never neglect or snub elderly people’ and must make arrangements to visit them ‘often’, regardless of their proximity. Although not clear, on how often is enough, the law itself shows that in China, older people are not to be disrespected.

Like the Chinese and the Koreans, the Japanese prize filial piety and expect children to dutifully tend to their parents. In Japan, the 60th and 70th birthday are marked with big celebrations where children perform dances and offer gifts. According to Social Gerontology: A Multidisciplinary Perspective, 7.2 percent of the Japanese population will be 80 or older in 2020 (compared to 4.1 percent in the U.S.)

The Western cultural stigma around aging and death doesn’t exist in Greece. In Greek and Greek-American culture, old age is honored and celebrated, and respect for elders is central to the family.

Not only do Koreans respect the elderly, but they also celebrate them. For Koreans, the 60th and 70th birthdays are prominent life events, which are commemorated with large-scale family parties and feasts. As in Chinese culture, the universal expectation in Korea is that roles reverse once parents age, and that it is an adult child’s duty — and an honorable one at that — to care for his or her parents.

Though the average life expectancy in ancient Rome was around 25, some individuals did live into their 70s, and they were generally respected for their wisdom. “The old had to be an example to the young, as it was thought the young learned by example. This was ingrained in Roman society.” ~ Dr. Karen Cokayne

It’s difficult to imagine such an Elderly Rights Law being a legislative priority in many Western cultures. France did, however, pass a similar decree in 2004 (Article 207 of the Civil Code) requiring its citizens to keep in touch with their geriatric parents.


Author: Carrie Mitchell

Carrie Mitchell is the founder and content director of L’Aventure Travel. She has traveled to over 40 countries, is the host of the Suitcase Sojourn Podcast, and author of the children’s travel book “To Be We: The Adventures of Owen and Lucy”. A writer, producer, entrepreneur, and communications strategist, Carrie is always seeking to learn from people and places around the world.