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5.7 Program for the Study of Germany and Europe

Income Packaging in Historical Perspective: Public & Private Support for the Elderly in Germany, 1890s-1950s

1995 Christoph Conrad


This paper analyzes the changing contribution of public and private income sources to the economic survival of the elderly poor in Gennany from the late nineteenth century to the 1950's. It also discusses the meaning of the categories "public" and "'private" in the everyday behavior of pensioners and welfare beneficiaries.Three differ­ ent debates are addressed. First, the paper criticizes a popular model of welfare state development, i.e., the linear shift of responsibility from private to public, which is an underlying theme of much recent debate about privatiza­ tion and welfare retrenchment. Second, a close look at the recipient's side of income provisions for old age rela­ tivizes the importance of social insurance as opposed to means-tested assistance and income from wages in the emergence of the German welfare state. Third, the paper adds a historical dimension to the sociological debate about income packaging. The evidence from around 1900, the 1920's, and 1950's points out that mixing public and private income sources in pensioners' budgets is a continuous feature of modem welfare states. What changes over time and varies along age, gender, and socioeconomic lines, however, is the incidence and relative value of the various resources in elderly households.