Old Age in the Balkans
Increasing Life Expectancy – Decreasing Regard
This paper gives an overview of the changing patterns of perceiving old age in the previous one and a half century: from agrarian society, which had been stretching to the middle of the 20th century, to present times. This time span includes approx. four decades of socialism and enforced industrialization in Albania, Bulgaria, Romania and Yugoslavia and serious attempts of industrialization under capitalist circumstances in Greece and Turkey. In each case, industrialization resulted in significant changes of the status of the elderly. The traditional rural pattern was based upon strict obedience to the elderly in young years and increasing honor and respect for both men and women in old age, provided two things were given: one or more sons had been born and were alive and the family, consisting of the old couple, their married son(s) and their children, had remained intact. This also included economic control by the elderly household head and the exclusion of women from inheritance. An institution such as the farmer's life interest (Ausgedinge) that was frequently practiced in West and Central Europe was unknown in the Balkans. Industrialization had a significant impact on generational relations because it was connected with urbanization, internal and external migrations, obligatory schooling for young men and women as well as increasing life expectancy. In present times, old age commonly connotes low pensions that hardly contribute to the welfare of the younger generation: the elderly have come to be considered a burden.