A Historical Perspective on Ageing and Capability

Ulrika Lagerlöf Nilsson, Helene Castenbrandt

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapterResearchpeer-review


This chapter discusses the value of a capability approach in historical research on older people. Historians are generally focused on studying continuity and change over time. Their research often aims at explaining how and why certain phenomena appear and take different shapes. Capability is a way of capturing an individual’s ability to live a meaningful life, or a life that they perceive as good. A modern analytical tool such as the capability approach can be used for visualising historical patterns, even though individuals’ values of well-being change over time. In that sense, historical studies of individuals’ capabilities, or functions, can add another perspective to this theoretical framework.

Old newspapers, biographies, diaries, letters, novels and government reports make it possible to understand which capabilities individuals and societies have valued for older citizens at different times. The meaning of functions differs over time and is dependent on several factors, such as gender and economic conditions, as well as social and civil status. This also means that conditions for a phenomenon such as retirement change over time, but they also differ depending on people’s previous life conditions. In this article, we explore these things using two different examples. Firstly, we discuss how Selma Lagerlöf, a woman with high social status, arranged for her retirement. The second example shows how women with low economic status struggled to retire at the time when universal pension reform was being implemented in Sweden.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationA Historical Perspective on Ageing and Capability
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Economic History


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