Ageing and Society

Research Article

Towards a Political Economy of Old Age*

Alan Walkera1

a1 Lecturer in Social Policy, Department of Sociological Studies, University of Sheffield, West Bank, Sheffield S10 2TN, England.


Although widespread poverty in old age has been recognized in Britain for at least 100 years, research on age and ageing has tended to concentrate on individual adjustment to old age and in turn, on narrow functionalist explanations of depressed social status. The elderly have been treated as a homogeneous group facing common problems. In contrast, an approach to ageing based on political economy will examine the relative social and economic status of different groups of elderly people as well as the relationship between the elderly and younger generations. Thus it is argued that poverty in old age is primarily a function of low economic and social status prior to retirement and the depressed social status of the retired, and secondarily, of the relatively low level of state benefits. Social policies which have failed to recognize inequality in old age and the causes of low economic and social status have therefore failed to tackle the problem of poverty and low incomes. The starting point for policy-makers should be the labour market and the social relationship between age and the labour market.


* Revised version of a paper presented at the British Society of Gerontology Annual Conference, Aberdeen, 1980.