I am curious to know how people, especially elderly people, used to spend their time in the past.

Did they work until their death?

It would also be interesting how these were different concerning social classes. I would think that leisure activities were more or less non-existent in the lower classes since they needed to work all the time to survive, or am I missing something?

Did people, once too old to work, just read or do other stuff until they died or did they work until the end. Or a combination of both.

  • 5
    Too broad as it stands - "in the past" is any time before now (so thousands of years). It's also a big world with lots of cultures and variations in how long people lived and how they coped with old age. Mar 20 '18 at 21:54
  • 2
    what research have you done, what have you learned, and what remains?
    – MCW
    Mar 20 '18 at 22:53
  • It also varied by gender in some societies. Compare "elder statesman" with a widow, who was (massive generalisation) more likely to be poor. It is no accident that a man's widow was often known as his "relict", and in medieval Europe widows were often expected to retire to a convent.
    – TheHonRose
    Mar 21 '18 at 2:47

Retirement as a common practice is a relatively modern concept, borne out of the industrial revolution and extended lifespans.

In traditional societies, the treatment of the elderly varies a lot. The anthropologist Jared Diamond discusses this in his book The World Until Yesterday, and in talks. It can range from neglect, suicide or outright murder (see The Ballad of Narayama), to reverence and valued members of the tribe. Many elders remained productive and valuable as repositories of wisdom:

First, as regards usefulness, older people continue to perform useful services. One use of older people in traditional societies is that they often are still effective at producing food. Another traditional usefulness of older people is that they are capable of babysitting their grandchildren, thereby freeing up their own adult children, the parents of those grandchildren, to go hunting and gathering food for the grandchildren. Still another traditional value of older people is in making tools, weapons, baskets, pots and textiles. In fact, they're usually the people who are best at it. Older people usually are the leaders of traditional societies, and the people most knowledgeable about politics, medicine, religion, songs and dances.



Retired Soviet workers usually gathered at a table in the back of their apartment building and played domino. One could see such a group near many apartment blocks, except at the times when a soccer game was broadcasted on TV.

The game of "patience" is a one-player card game which was also quite popular in many societies in various epochs.

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