The number of older people working has declined since the end of the 19th century when the Victorians worked in physically-demanding jobs such as mining and farming into their 80s or 90s.
Family history website Ancestry.co.uk said more than half of workers carried on beyond the age of 65 in the 1890s, compared with 10 per cent today.
Research among millions of records in the 1891 census revealed examples of men mining for coal at the age of 89 or working as agricultural labourers into their 90s, with women working as domestic helpers into their mid-80s.
The concept of retirement did not exist, and with no pension or welfare funds, elderly people had no support unless they had financial help from relatives, said the report.
Miriam Silverman, of Ancestry.co.uk, said: “We may be facing a retirement crisis today but it is nothing compared to what Victorian workers experienced, with this research providing a shocking picture of the struggles elderly people faced in their day-to-day lives.”
Youth unemployment was virtually non-existent in 1891, with almost every young person not in education involved in some kind of work, the study showed.