The Centuries of the Elderly: Old Age, Pensions, and Retirement in Premodern Europe (c. 1000-1800)

In our present ‘century of the elderly’ a global ageing population will put increasing pressure on public welfare. Suggestions that we can simply return to a system of filial care that supposedly existed not too long ago have been challenged by historians. Yet the notion that throughout history it has been natural for sons and daughters to take care of ageing parents, and that this practise has only been abandoned recently, continues to hold sway. Yet, eldercare often did not come about naturally but through exchange. Old men and women used whatever property they had to negotiate care with family, institutions, and even third parties. Contracts that gave a right to lifelong monetary pensions or food and lodging can be found throughout premodern Europe. They indicate genuine concerns about later-life impoverishment, the ability to take precautions, and the agency many old men and women secured even in advanced old age.