Économie et Statistique n° 417-418 - 2008Household Assets: Recent Developments
Assets and Retirement: the French Experience, 1820-1940
Ever since the controversies on blue-collar workers’ pensions in the mid-nineteenth century, the capacity of individuals to provide their own old-age insurance has been debated. Yesterday, workers were stigmatized for their improvidence and denied all pension rights; today, there are calls for everyone to be free to build his or her own nest egg for old age. It is therefore legitimate to ask what was the true situation of those who reached old age in a period when there were few or no retirement pensions. Using individual asset data, we can estimate the percentage of the population that had enough financial resources to live their last years autonomously. Life-cycle savings were highly inadequate to support the elderly in the nineteenth century. Far beyond the working class and the lowest-skilled wage-earners, large strata of the French population did not possess enough assets to subsist, even modestly, in the final period of a life of labour and saving. In particular, the status of the eldest, after steadily improving in the nineteenth century, worsened abruptly in the 1900s. We conclude our overview of the crisis in old-age financing in the early twentieth century with the wide inequality of access to end-of-life economic inactivity between men and women, and between socio-occupational categories.