Discussions of the position of the elderly have typically been cast in terms of demographic considerations and/or level of industrialisation. In contradistinction to this approach we employ a political economic perspective which reveals the contradictions present in the situation of aged small farmers in southern Italy. Using a dialectic approach, it is argued that the function performed by the small farm sector, that of keeper of the surplus labour force, is extended to deal with the elderly population. Within this context, rurality assumes a permanent posture as the aged farmers are maintained at the margin of the labour market and are eventually expelled from it. At the same time, this farming segment substitutes for other social agencies as a caretaker for a portion of the older population. This function, however, creates social tensions for it mandates continuous State support for the survival of these farms, demands which are resisted by the bourgeoisie and certain segments of the working class. Even if it were deemed appropriate, the State cannot extend its support to small farms without simultaneously calling forth a fiscal and legitimation crisis stemming from its policy coverage.