The aim of the present 23-year follow-up of a Swedish survey on social attitudes toward old-age retirees is to examine what changes have occurred in socio-politically relevant behavioral dispositions. Sweden is a prosperous industrial welfare society, which during the past few decades has developed into an even more advanced and prosperous society, where the focus on old people has been double discoursed, focusing on both miseries and prosperities.
From an overall perspective, social attitudes in the studies years 1982 and 2005 look quite similar, despite changes in society and the double discourses on old people. This stability is attributed to the likewise stable economy and its macro-sociological basis for attitudes, but also to the fact that social attitudes toward the elderly are rooted in some very basic and stable values in society.
In 1982, as in 2005, nearly 90 percent of Swedes viewed retirees as having valuable assets in the form of life experiences that should be passed along to younger generations. Increasingly, retirees have been ascribed the same right to welfare benefits as the gainfully employed, and there is increased agreement that the public welfare system should be responsible for old people’s care and service. These attitudes exist within the framework of a strong, unwavering belief in or hope for serial reciprocity – that the taxes you pay during working life will be returned to you as welfare during old age. The yet existing distrust in such serial reciprocity has decreased, but is still noticeable. However, retirees still have to face the expectation that they should not compete with young people on the labor market, even if this particular attitude has weakened somewhat over the 23-year period. And, in 2005, there was still a non-negligible 40 percent of Swedes who felt that old people have no business being in parliament – even if this attitude has declined from the 1982 level of 60 percent.
During the 23-year period, opinions on how to distribute individual retirement benefits have changed, however – from a “same for all” stance to a new “related to earlier income” stance. This is interpreted as a new wind of individualistic utilitarianism in social attitudes. In 1982, this particular attitude was related to the political orientation of the respondent – a correlation that has disappeared over the years. This is a general tendency, in which not only political orientation, but also variables such as education level, gender and age have lost their explanatory power. Thus, social attitudes seem to have become individualized beyond such variables.
The Social gerontology Group, Dept. of Sociology, Uppsala , 2007. , 28 p.