Ageing in a changing society : Elderly men and women in urban Sweden 1830-1930

University dissertation from Umeå : Umeå universitet

Abstract: This study deals with the impact of industrialisation and urbanisation on the living conditions of aged men and women. By studying labour force participation, savings and pensions, the role of the family, and the extent of dependency of aged men and women from a gender and class perspective, continuities and changes between pre-industrial and industrial times are examined. The main focus is placed on the situation of elderly persons living in the town of Sundsvall between 1830 and 1930. This town became the commercial centre of one of the largest saw-mill districts in the world at the end of the nineteenth century. The residence patterns of old men and women in Sundsvall are also compared with those in two other Swedish industrialised urban areas; the capital Stockholm and the textile centre Norrköping.According to modernisation theorists, industrialisation and urbanisation led to an increase in dependency in old age, due to weakening family ties and unemployment. This study shows the complexity of the issue. It is true that some sources reveal a declining proportion of men participating in the labour force at the very end of the period of observation, but this was primarily due to the introduction of the national pension system in 1914. On the other hand, other records show a stability or even an increasing proportion of elderly men and women in the labour market.By contrast with previous studies of the residence patterns of aged persons, this dissertation shows a very high percentage of elderly women living alone in all three urban areas selected for study. However, this was not solely a sign of isolation, since the vast majority of those elderly living in households of their own had children residing in the vicinity. Furthermore, many old men and women shared households with their children, although this pattern was less common among the working class. The role of off-spring appears to have been important both in pre-industrial and industrial times. The residence patterns of the urban elderly were probably influenced by traditional rural living arrangements, to the extent that old couples and their married children often lived close to each other but usually maintained households of their own. Old parents and their adult children might have preferred to live in separate households instead of crowding in with each other.The unmarried elderly were probably most affected by the transformations taking place at the end of the nineteenth century. A considerable number of them migrated late in life, leaving all their relatives behind. Therefore, they became highly vulnerable. Unmarried men tended to be more exposed to the dangers of urban life. They probably experienced tougher working conditions, had weaker social networks, and could not manage on their own to the same extent as women. Therefore, a larger propor-tion of men than women ended up in the workhouse.

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