The responsibilization of aging under neoliberal health regimes: A case study of Masters athleticism




McGowan, Bridget Jane

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With amateur athleticism on the rise in Canada, older Masters athletes have been promoted as exemplars of “successful aging” in governmental population health campaigns that encourage all seniors to be physically active. This study investigates the life experiences of a group of ‘successfully aging’ Masters athletes to better situate their circumstances against the backdrop of a discourse of health responsibilization enacted by the state in its efforts to improve the health of aging citizens. Data were obtained from 15 in-depth interviews with Masters athletes age 60 and over. The findings revealed Masters athletes to have had exceptional life-long involvement in athleticism with intense physical training debuting early in adult life with several participants having been high-ranking amateur athletes prior to their involvement in Masters athleticism. Belonging for the most part to a high socioeconomic status, these participants were able to afford the costs associated with participation in high calibre athletic training and events. While these athletes might be held as exemplars of successful aging, they did not perceive themselves as such nor are their lifestyles and athletic achievements typical of the older seniors population that is targeted by state funded population health promotion efforts. This study offers insight into the socially constructed nature of successful aging under neoliberalism. It highlights a trend whereby health and aging are responsibilized as successful personal endeavours rather than as the outcomes of determinants largely outside the control of any one individual.



aging, physical activity, seniors, population health, neoliberalism