The experience of retirement and old age of two cohorts of the residents of Paris, born successively around 1907 and 1921, have been studied through prospective longitudinal studies, each of which comprised several waves of interviews. The two cohorts were first interviewed as they approached retirement and old age, in respectively 1972 and 1984. Moulded by the strong contemporaneous social change, the principal life experiences of the two cohorts have been quite different – from the social and geographic settings of their birth, their childhood and education, through their occupations and career advancement, parenting and family lives, housing conditions and residential mobility, earned incomes and pensions, longevity, and utilisation of medical care. Above all, their long lives have been strongly conditioned by rapid and radical socio-economic changes, particularly in the occupational structure, the rising standard of living, and improvements in urban housing standards, social protection, personal services and average life span. In contrast to their rising material standards, the cohorts have faced the gradual spread of less sympathetic attitudes towards older people, particularly those who lose their autonomy. As the number of people in advanced old age has relentlessly increased, they have in several respects become more distant from the rest of society. Maintaining the continued ‘inclusion’ and full citizenship of frail older people is not only a growing moral and practical problem, but also a major political problem in a democracy.