Policy Intellectuals, Class Struggle and the Construction of Old Age: The Creation of the Social Security Act of 1935

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Social Science and Medicine





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Studies in the political economy of aging criticize social policies for the aged for reinforcing class inequalities and doing little to help many aged persons, yet few use this perspective to explore policy development. Estes' critique of dominant conceptions of aging is the starting point for this study of the historical development of the U.S. Social Security Act. When the conflict between capital and labor is placed at the center of analysis, we see that conceptions of aging as inevitable physical and mental decline, and the subsequent institutionalization of retirement, emerged early in the 20th century from work place conflicts over changes in the production process and worker productivity. The Social Security Act embraced those conceptions of the 'problems' of aging most consistent with the needs of capitalist industry, and issues involving class struggles were redefined as issues of biological aging and decline. This paper explores the dynamics of this process and the role of businessmen and policy intellectuals. Understanding class struggles over the definition of problems is just as important as understanding class struggles over particular policies. Focusing on problem definitions also allows us as researchers to see how we may unwittingly reinforce the inequalities we struggle to overcome.


Aged; Aging; Equality; Humans; Men; Old age pensions; Older people; Pensions; Public welfare; Retirement; Social classes; Social justice; Social security; Social security--Law and legislation; Social Security/legislation & jurisprudence; Social Security Act (United States); Social service; Social Welfare; United States; Women; Work


Demography, Population, and Ecology | Inequality and Stratification | Politics and Social Change | Sociology




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