Ageing, scholarly expert knowledge, and the rise of the welfare state

Call for Papers, deadline 1 February 2013
Call for papers

Ageing, scholarly expert knowledge, and the rise of the welfare state

Today, demographic change is often discussed in the context of dwindling human and financial resources and a 'crisis' of the welfare state, particularly with regards to the future affordability of national pension and health care schemes. With the benefit of hindsight, one can ascertain that the process of ageing in most Western societies already started at the end of the nineteenth century. Although scholars and policy makers began to recognize this demographic transition during the first half of the twentieth century already, only little efforts have been made so far to put past ideas, solutions, and reflections on the rising economic burden of elderly people in a broader historical and comparative perspective. Even today, it is still widely assumed that governments were merely taken by surprise only by the 1980s.

However, empirical evidence suggests that the architects of modern welfare states were not blind for the ageing of population. As new pension and health care systems were (re)constructed and subsequently expanded in the post-war period through the 1970s, these major events were accompanied by vivid debates on financing the rising share of elderly persons. Demographers, actuaries and economists alike might have been highly aware of this phenomenon and its future budgetary effects on new welfare programs.
Moreover, a historical approach offers new insights in the ways European and North-American governments, advisory councils and policy makers thought about changing dependency ratios, including the various solutions proposed.

The object of this session is to explore and discuss the roots of current debates on the sustainability of the welfare state. It provides a venue for scholars from different disciplines (history, demography, economics, political and social sciences, gerontology etc.) who share an interest in the historical interaction between scholarly expert knowledge and the evolution of welfare systems. The session may contribute to academic research by providing contemporary discussants with the views of their predecessors.


Suggested paper topics

The proposed session centers around four themes with a focus on qualitative research. Contributions could focus on one or more of these themes, but proposals for associated topics can also be suggested:

I. The history of scholarly expert knowledge on ageing:

o Which actors were aware of the sustainability issue, in which decades and in which countries?
o Population forecasts in old age policies: To what degree did they prove to be right?
o The rise of demography and actuarial science as professions
o The role of international organizations and transnational expert networks

II. The interplay between academics and social welfare politics:

o Ageing as an issue in Western pension and health care policies during the 20 th century
o The practical appliance of scholarly knowledge on ageing
o Demographic discourses and population debates in international perspective. E.g. the 1980s 'panic': When/how does population ageing turn political?
o Population politics and the welfare state

III. 'Ageing proof' pension systems: Intelligent design or a lucky coincidence?

o Which provisions did Western countries make to create sound pension systems for future generations?
o How can similarities and differences in cross-national comparison be explained?
o Anticipation on ageing as explanation for the favorable composition of multi-pillar pension systems today?

This aspect esp. concerns the UK, Switzerland, Denmark and the Netherlands.
It links up to academic debate on the evolution of pension systems, in particular to path dependent theories in the social sciences.

IV. Past scholarly perceptions of ageing (1900-1970s) and their meaning for contemporary welfare debates. E.g. ideas and visions in the diverse countries on:

o Intergenerational solidarity
o A future increase/de-standardization of statutory pension ages (in view of health in old age, socio-economic varieties in life courses)
o Images of 'old age pensioners' as an institutionalized social group: The age-related employability of older workers ('active ageing')
o Population and fertility policy (incl. child policies)
o Other solutions
o More fundamental reflections on the actual scope of the demographic challenge



Scholars are invited to present their views on the 38th Annual Meeting of the Social Science History Association. This conference will be organized in Chicago, IL on November 21-24, 2013.

Please submit an abstract (300 to 500 words, in English) and a concise curriculum vitae to Robin Satter (r.satter [at] before February 1, 2013. Final papers are due November 1. Contributions from scholars in the early stages of their careers are very welcome. The SSHA provides competitive grants for graduate student travel ( For further inquiries, please feel free to contact the organizer of this session.

Robin Satter MA
PhD student in Economic, Social and Demographic History Radboud University Nijmegen PO Box 9103, 6500 HD Nijmegen, the Netherlands
Phone: (31) 24 3655948
Email: r.satter [at]
PhD project: Financing the ageing of population. An historical and comparative perspective.
Supervisors: Prof. Th.L.M. Engelen (RU) and Prof. Jan Kok (RU)

[Cross-posted, with thanks, from EH-Net]