Cover image for How old are you? : age consciousness in American culture
How old are you? : age consciousness in American culture
Chudacoff, Howard P.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [1989]

Physical Description:
x, 232 pages, 10 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HM131 .C7325 1989 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Most Americans take it for granted that a thirteen-year-old in the fifth grade is "behind schedule," that "teenagers who marry "too early" are in for trouble, and that a seventy-five-year-old will be pleased at being told, "You look young for your age." Did an awareness of age always dominate American life? Howard Chudacoff reveals that our intense age consciousness has developed only gradually since the late nineteenth century. In so doing, he explores a wide range of topics, including demographic change, the development of pediatrics and psychological testing, and popular music from the early 1800s until now. "Throughout our lifetimes American society has been age-conscious. But this has not always been the case. Until the mid-nineteenth century, Americans showed little concern with age. The one-room schoolhouse was filled with students of varied ages, and children worked alongside adults.... [This is] a lively picture of the development of age consciousness in urban middle-class culture." --Robert H. Binstock, The New York Times Book Review "A fresh perspective on a century of social and cultural development."--Michael R. Dahlin, American Historical Review

Author Notes

Howard P. Chudacoff is Professor of History at Brown University

Reviews 1

Choice Review

How Old Are You? is both a history of the processes by which American society became age-conscious and age-graded, and an analysis of the relationships between those processes and broader social change. Although Chudacoff is quite successful in treating historical aspects, his analysis of how they influence social change is less successful. Moreover, the book is more limited than its subtitle suggests. Chudacoff concentrates mainly on the second half of the 19th century and on the first three decades of the 20th, with one chapter on age distinctions before 1850. A final chapter on continuity and trends in the recent past is a rapid and shallow look at the topic since the 1940s. Chudacoff, who teaches urban history at Brown University, attributes changes primarily to developments in education, medicine, the family, and law. He bases his book on unusual sources: popular songs, diaries, birthday cards, children's games, and self-help manuals. This makes for a work that is interesting but not very orderly. Index but no bibliography; endnotes; and a very few (nine) images. -D. W. Hoover, Ball State University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introductionp. 3
Chapter 1. Blurred Age Distinctions: American Society Before 1850p. 9
Chapter 2. Origins of Age Grading: Education and Medicinep. 29
Chapter 3. Age Norms and Scheduling: The 1890sp. 49
Chapter 4. Intensification of Age Norms: 1900-1920p. 65
Chapter 5. Emergence of A Peer Societyp. 92
Chapter 6. Act Your Age: The Culture of Age, 1900-1935p. 117
Chapter 7. Age Consciousness in American Popular Musicp. 138
Chapter 8. Continuities and Changes in the Recent Pastp. 157
Conclusionp. 183
Notesp. 191
Indexp. 229