Ageing and Society

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Ageing and Society (2010), 30:229-251 Cambridge University Press
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2009


Citizenship and structured dependency: the implications of policy design for senior political power


a1 Irish Centre for Social Gerontology, National University of Ireland Galway, County Galway, Republic of Ireland.
Article author query
carney gm [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]


This paper argues that the structured dependency thesis must be extended to incorporate political power. It outlines a political framework of analysis with which to identify who gains and who loses from social policy. I argue that public policy for older people is a product not only of social structures but also of political decision-making. The Schneider and Ingram (1993) ‘target populations’ model is used to investigate how the social construction of groups as dependent equates with lower levels of influence on policy making. In United Kingdom and European research, older people are identified as politically quiescent, but conversely in the United States seniors are viewed as one of the most influential and cohesive interest groups in the political culture. Why are American seniors perceived as politically powerful, while older people in Europe are viewed as dependent and politically weak? This paper applies the ‘target populations’ model to senior policy in the Republic of Ireland to investigate how theoretical work in the United States may be used to identify the significance of senior power in policy development. I conclude that research must recognise the connections between power, politics and social constructions to investigate how state policies can influence the likelihood that seniors will resist structured dependency using political means.

(Accepted April 13 2009)

(Online publication August 14 2009)

Key Words:political economy; policy; structured dependency; political power; social construction


c1 Address for correspondence: Gemma Carney, Irish Centre for Social Gerontology, J.E. Cairnes Building, National University of Ireland Galway, County Galway, Republic of Ireland. E-mail: