Surviving Old Age in an Ageing World Old People in France, 1820-1940

By Jérôme Bourdieu, Lionel Kesztenbaum


Compared with other European countries, population ageing began particularly early in France. That trend affected both societal organization and family ties. Examining changes in asset ownership by the French between 1820 and 1940 reveals that the proportion of people who died leaving no estate increased, and increased at every age. Taking this dual observation as a starting point, this paper seeks to analyse the strategies employed by older people to survive through old age, utilizing three types of resources: personal economic resources, family resources and state resources. The analysis shows the heterogeneity of this older age group and hence of the survival strategies deployed. Savings are a solution only for a minority; they enable access to other resources and in particular offer an alternative to continued employment. It is also shown that pensions, which were introduced gradually, facilitated more widespread access to savings. Lastly, the growing share of older people in the French population was accompanied by the increasing role of state support.

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