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Wood, Gregory John (2006) THE PROBLEM OF THE OLD MAN: MANHOOD, CLASS, AND RETIREMENT IN THE UNITED STATES, 1910s-1950s. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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As the life cycle began to expand after 1900, "old age" became a new twentieth-century site where, like the nineteenth-century factory, working-class males struggled to define and sustain identities as "men." By studying "the problem of the old man," this dissertation revises historians' understandings of gender and class -- showing how gender, class, and aging have fundamentally intersected and, in the process, shaped the histories of work, the welfare state, and organized labor. The first three chapters explore how the rise of mass production catalyzed "the problem of the old man" during the 1910s and 1920s, and why state pensions emerged as the principal way to uphold manhood in later life. Chapter 1 examines how mass production employers emphasized youth and speed in the workplace, making "growing old" a major source of unease about manhood. Chapter 2 addresses why many experts in social provision concluded by 1929 that only pensions from the state could uphold the masculinity of the aging male breadwinner. Chapter 3 looks at how both the state and the workers tried to find ways to uphold the economic foundations of manhood during the Great Depression, ranging from Social Security to labor organizing. The final chapters examine the shifting class and gender politics that accompanied the rise of modern "retirement" during the 1940s and 1950s. Chapter 4 discusses how expanding job opportunities, increasing incomes, and suburbanization made middle-class status a key foundation of manhood after World War II. As a result, aging professionals displaced factory workers in "the problem of the old man" discourse. Chapter 5 examines the strategies older men used to affirm manhood after retirement. As in their "working years," retired men struggled to be youthful and "productive." Many retired men busied themselves with rigorous routines of sports, "tinkering," and yard work in order to demonstrate their manhood. During the postwar years, as the average length of life continued to expand, men embraced a contradictory definition of manhood that depended on males' ability to sustain economic success and youthful bodies -- even as their bodies aged and they faced the end of their careers due to retirement.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Wood, Gregory
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairOestreicher, Richarddick@pitt.eduDICK
Committee MemberBrush, Lisalbrush@pitt.eduLBRUSH
Committee MemberGreenwald, Maurinegreenwal@pitt.eduGREENWAL
Committee MemberTroesken, Wernertroesken@pitt.eduTROESKEN
Date: 27 June 2006
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 3 February 2006
Approval Date: 27 June 2006
Submission Date: 5 April 2006
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Age; Age Discrimination; Aging; Labor; Manhood; Old Age; Retirement; Welfare State
Other ID:, etd-04052006-104156
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:34
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:38


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