Kathrin Komp

University of Helsinki, Department of Social Research / Social Policy

Helsinki, Finland
Kathrin Komp


The moral economy of the third age. Why governments encouraging productivity in old age are unpopular.


In times of economic crisis, governments often strive to cut public spending. They do this, for example, by raising the retirement age, which lowers the amount of pension benefits distributed. Another strategy is to encourage volunteering in later life, which shifts tasks from public social services to the civil society. Both strategies are justified with the emergence of a population of third-agers, meaning healthy retirees. Third-agers are not only physically capable of working and volunteering, they might also benefit from these activities. They might, for example, experience social inclusion and increased well-being.

However, reforms encouraging productivity in old age often meet opposition. The reason is that third-agers are still associated with the traditional stereotype of old age, which is the one of frailty and helplessness. They are treated like vulnerable individuals in need of support, although they are self reliant and resourceful. An outdated image of third-agers thus causes moral concerns about policies, thereby blocking welfare state reforms. This project maps the image of third-agers and expectations concerning their activities across Europe. To do this, it merges theories on the influence of morals and norms from political science and social gerontology. The methods employed are conceptual considerations, quantitative and qualitative analyses. The outcomes of this project will help third-agers in defining their role in society. Additionally, they will help policymakers in effectively implementing reforms affecting third-agers.

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