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The Poverty of Impoverishment Theory: The Economic Well-Being of the Elderly, 1890-1950

Brian Gratton
The Journal of Economic History
Vol. 56, No. 1 (Mar., 1996), pp. 39-61
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2124018
Page Count: 23
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The Poverty of Impoverishment Theory: The Economic Well-Being of the Elderly, 1890-1950
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Abstract

Progressive Era and New Deal reformers claimed that industrialization impoverished the elderly by degrading older workers. This has become the standard interpretation in popular and scholarly accounts. Data from 1890 through 1950 show that real wages of older workers rose sharply during this period and that family economic strategies promised the elderly considerable security. Birth cohort analysis indicates positive age-earnings profiles across the life cycle. Although the elderly benefited from economic growth, security in old age often demanded intrafamilial exchanges. Tensions arising from these transfers may explain the broad popular support Social Security received.

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