Journal of Population Ageing

, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp 217–230 | Cite as

Measuring and Managing Bodies in the Later Life Course

  • Bjarke Oxlund
  • Susan Reynolds WhyteEmail author


With increasing longevity and the medicalization of the life course in countries with developed health and welfare systems, measurements have become more important for managing ageing bodies. This review article emphasizes the importance of the ‘meso-level’of social interaction, where people are involved with others in using numbers to deal with older bodies. It considers three kinds of measurement: the quantification of biological values for purposes of treatment; the assessment of functionality in order to determine the need for care services and training; and the use of measuring devices to track and manage health at home. Ethnographic methods are well suited for exploring the social uses of numbers and to the appreciation of diversity in those uses. They show that the overall trend towards increasing quantification takes different forms for different people and purposes. Because they abstract and objectify, numbers can facilitate reflection and communication. In practice, they may be interpreted differently by different actors. The review concludes with suggestions for further research on the uses of measurement for managing bodies and people in the later life course.


Medicalization Measurement Biological values Functionality assessment Self-care measuring devices 



We gratefully acknowledge support by the Nordea Foundation to the Center for Healthy Aging at the University of Copenhagen. Many thanks to our colleagues in Programme 4 on Preventive Medication for inspiration and to Helene Risør for assistence at an earlier phase of this review work. We appreciate encouragement and constructive suggestions on an earlier version of this paper from Kenneth Howse and George Leeson.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Anthropology and Centre for Healthy AgingUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark

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