The citizen's wage: the state and the elderly in Canada, 1900-1951
Although we inevitably grow old, the social, cultural, and economic characteristics associated with aging are neither natural nor inevitable. James Snell brings a historian's perspective to the problems of aging and the discourse that surrounds it, a discourse that affects both public policy and the way we think about older people.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the elderly were coming to be thought of as a distinct group in society, whose members were inherently weak, sick, and dependent. Poorhouses were slowly being converted to old age homes, and new laws tried to force families to support their elderly parents. The state would supply only limited assistance to those who needed it.
The Old Age Pension program, initiated in Canada in 1927, began to change society's approach to the elderly. Over time individual pensioners learned to manipulate the program to their best advantage and, as a group, they began to assert their common interests, forming the first `grey lobby' to pressure state bureaucrats and politicians to improve both policy and practice. The economic troubles of the 1930s and the early war years reinforced new views of the state as well as a culture of entitlement among the elderly and their families, and many other groups. By mid-century the redefinition of old age was reflected in state policies that offered the elderly new status as `senior citizens' and provided them with new forms of support - particularly universal pensions and health care - captured in the phrase `a citizen's wage.'
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