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Precarity and the assumption of rising insecurity in later life: a critique

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 May 2019

Chris Gilleard*
Division of Psychiatry, UCL Faculty of Brain Sciences, London, UK
Paul Higgs
Division of Psychiatry, UCL Faculty of Brain Sciences, London, UK
*Corresponding author. Email:


In recent years, several authors have drawn attention to signs of growing inequalities in the ageing populations of the developed economies. Such formulations have employed the concept of precariousness to suggest that a ‘new’ precarity has emerged in old age. Questioning this position and drawing on data reported over the last two decades on income and health inequalities between and within retired and working-age households, the present paper argues that evidence of this ‘precarity’ is speculative at most and relates more to imagined futures than to empirically observed trends in the present. The ageing of ageing societies – that is the growing agedness of the older population – might imply an increase in precarity or vulnerability at older ages, but this is not a result of changes in the underlying economic and social relations of society. Instead, we would contend that it is the corporeal consequences of living longer. By conflating the various meanings of ‘precarity’ there is a corresponding danger that the very real changes brought about by population ageing will be underplayed, which may be to the detriment of the most vulnerable. The idea of a new precarity in later life may thus not serve the ends to which it is intended.

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