Chronic Poverty and Older People in the Developing World

24 Pages Posted: 4 Feb 2011

Date Written: January 1, 2002


The paper explores the relationship between old age and chronic poverty in the developing world, and the implications of this for achieving global targets for poverty reduction.

For the majority of the world's older people, the meaning of old age is not a chronological definition but the changing roles accompanying physical change and reduced capacity to contribute or maintain a livelihood. As a result of trends towards lower fertility and mortality, populations are aging. Whilst this demographic transition is global, the growth in numbers and proportions of older people is most rapid in the so-called "developing" countries. In the absence of policies, infrastructure, services and information increasing numbers of people in the south are aging in poverty.

Available evidence reviewed in this paper highlights three key features of chronic poverty in old age: it is strongly associated with reduced framework of capacity, it is a condition from which few if any can be expected to escape, and it is both caused by and perpetuates chronic intergenerational poverty. Opportunities to employ physical strength, often the most critical asset of poor people, are reduced in old age. Widespread institutional and social exclusion on the basis of age and gender represent formidable barriers for the poorest older people in their efforts to achieve income and social security, and crucially their health. The differential impacts of age on women and men is only beginning to be understood.Factors indicating high risk of chronic poverty for older women include their greater longevity and likelihood of widowhood, inequitable inheritance laws, and low access to education and health services, while risk factors for men in some communities include abrupt loss of status and low levels of support from children.

A review of the actions of government, civil society and international agencies to address old age poverty indicates that aging is still distant from the overall social development agendas at all levels. Current poverty reduction measures and proposals have not sufficiently acknowledged the intergenerational dimension of poverty, nor has attention been paid to older people's own survival strategies. The paper argues that these are critical elements of any credible poverty reduction programme.

Keywords: Older People, Chronic Poverty, Developing World

Suggested Citation

Heslop, Amanda and Gorman, Mark, Chronic Poverty and Older People in the Developing World (January 1, 2002). Chronic Poverty Research Centre Working Paper No. 10, Available at SSRN: or

Amanda Heslop (Contact Author)

HelpAge International ( email )

PO Box 32832
London, N1 9ZN
United Kingdom

Mark Gorman

Cisco Systems ( email )

San Jose, CA 95134
United States

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