What Is the Disengagement Theory?

The disengagement theory holds that within societies, the elderly gradually go through a period of adjustment in which they discontinue public roles and withdraw from social connections. Eventually, they only have contact with close friends and family members.

The disengagement theory was advanced in "Growing Old," a book published in 1961 by Elaine Cumming and William Henry. It holds that society benefits from the disengagement of the elderly by avoiding disruption when important members pass away suddenly and by permitting younger individuals to take over the jobs vacated by the elderly.

Other theories have been advanced, however, that contradict the disengagement theory. These include the activity theory and the continuity theory, both of which assert that society values seniors who remain a viable part of society until they pass. As of April 2014, these latter theories are more accepted than the disengagement theory.