The relationship of aging and death has shifted across historic time (Kastenbaum, 1979). This has changed the way that death is viewed, death is conceptualized, and the way that death is bureaucratized. Death used to be very common among the young. In fact, it was quite uncommon for an individual to live to a ripe old age. When an individual died, they often left family and responsibilities. In a sense, the individual still had obligations to the living which he/she will not be able to fill. Blauner (1976) uses this as an explanation for the belief in ghosts in high-mortality societies. the living have a need to be engaged with a vivid community of the dead.
This can be contrasted with modern low early-mortality societies. Typically, individuals have completed their parenting and work responsibilities before they die. His/her obligations are over. In fact, the debt seems to have reversed itself with the survivors experiencing unpaid social and psychological debts. For example, they may have intended to share appreciation, affection, or love but never got around to it. Often time, individuals "make up for" their debts through the funeral (Blauner, 1976). In other words, they want their dead to have "the best" as a way to repay debts that can no longer be paid socially or psychologically.
Blauner (1976) claims that ghosts are not needed in a low early-mortality society. In a sense, the aged are already disengaged from society. Therefore, there is no need for a community of ghosts to replace the missing societal members. Death and old age are often thought of synonymously (Kastenbaum, 1979). Blauner hypothesizes that this disengagement affords the individual the time to reminisce and review their life. However, as previously stated, empirical research does not support the concept of normative disengagement in old age.
What this historical perspective does give us is a reason why old age is not the sole proprietor of reminiscence or the life review. Most individuals, historically, did not live to old age. For example, the average life expectancy around the time of the American Revolution was 35 years of age (Kastenbaum, 1979). Therefore, it was important for individuals who were younger to be able to assess their lives in the face of death1s reality; most individuals died young. However, as death has become associated with old age, so has the life review process.