Golden Years

How Americans Invented and Reinvented Old Age

Coming Soon


By James Chappel

Formats and Prices




$42.00 CAD



  1. Hardcover $32.00 $42.00 CAD
  2. ebook $18.99 $24.99 CAD

The surprising history of old age in modern America, showing how we created unprecedented security for some and painful uncertainty for others

On farms and in factories, Americans once had little choice but to work until death. As the nation prospered, a new idea was born: the right to a dignified and secure old age. That project has benefited millions, but it remains incomplete—and today it’s under siege. 
In Golden Years, historian James Chappel shows how old age first emerged as a distinct stage of life and how it evolved over the last century, shaped by politicians’ choices, activists’ demands, medical advancements, and cultural models from utopian novels to The Golden Girls. Only after World War II did government subsidies and employer pensions allow people to retire en masse. Just one generation later, this model crumbled. Older people streamed back into the workforce, and free-market policymakers pushed the burdens of aging back onto older Americans and their families. We now confront an old age mired in contradictions: ever longer lifespans and spiraling health-care costs, 401(k)s and economic precarity, unprecedented opportunity and often disastrous instability.   
As the population of older Americans grows, Golden Years urges us to look to the past to better understand old age today—and how it could be better tomorrow.
Request Desk/Exam Copy

  • “Who deserves to retire, and under what conditions? What should this retirement require of others? Going beyond cliches about Social Security as the ‘third rail of American politics,’ Florida, and nursing homes, Golden Years illuminates how the struggle to define old age has proven central to the meaning of citizenship and inclusion in America, touching every aspect of our common life.”
    Gabriel Winant, author of The Next Shift

On Sale
Nov 19, 2024
Page Count
368 pages
Basic Books

James Chappel

About the Author

James Chappel is the Gilhuly Family Associate Professor of History at Duke University and a senior fellow at the Duke Aging Center. The author of Catholic Modern, his writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Nation, and the New Republic. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.

Learn more about this author