Were there any constants in the experience of old age, whether rich or poor,  in pre-industrial (early modern) England?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Aging was commonly viewed as divided into three functional stages in the early modern period, although some written works from the period use more complex forms of categorization. The first stage was youth, when people were still training to become fully functional members of society; for women, this stage was that of being a "maid" or virgin. The next major life stage was maturity, or adulthood, during which one was generally married and a parent. The third stage of life was old age, portrayed as a period of decline; for women this was marked by menopause or widowhood and for men by a less clearly demarcated sort of physical decline.

Old age was increasingly medicalized in the early modern period, regarded as the equivalent of an ailment, and thus as something potentially curable or at least treatable. For all classes, old age was regarded as a period of physical decline, and was generally portrayed negatively, especially in the case of women. The negative portrayal of the very old, as losing their wits as well as physical abilities, and often becoming greedy, miserly, or eccentric, seems to be uniform across classes and genders. 

As medical technology was quite primitive, although the wealthy might have a slightly greater degree of comfort as they aged, and servants might be able to compensate for declining physical abilities, in general old age was considered a period of physical discomfort that could not be alleviated by known medical technology. Also common was the problem of gender, with widows of all classes often being in an economically and socially precarious position unless their families had made the precaution of granting them some form of guaranteed life income in the form of a jointure or portion.