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The influence of the welfare state on the number of young old persons


Many current discussions of welfare state reforms focus on the ‘young old’, a group now generally perceived as healthy people past retirement age without a legal responsibility for dependent persons in need of care. For the welfare state, they constitute a resource whose activities are hard to steer. This article focuses on the influence of the welfare state on the number of ‘young old’ people. It describes different ways in which the welfare state influences the number of young old persons, and investigates whether variations in the regulations for the ages of normal, early and late retirement are the prime cause. The paper also estimates the share of the young old among those aged 50–90 years in 10 European countries in 2004 using comparable survey data. These shares ranged between 36 and 49 per cent for men and between 35 and 52 per cent for women. High shares were found in continental European countries, and low shares in Scandinavian countries and the United Kingdom. The shares in southern European countries varied among the countries and by gender. To explain the variations in the share, country differences in retirement regulations proved helpful but insufficient. When the overall influence of the welfare state on the share of young old persons in the population was analysed, a country-characteristic pattern emerged.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Kathrin Komp, Department of Sociology, VU University Amsterdam, De Boelelaan 1081, 1081HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands. E-mail:
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Ageing & Society
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