Ageing, well-being and development. A comparative study of Brazil and South Africa

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The project locates the issues of poverty and economic vulnerability in later life within wider frameworks of active ageing, wellbeing and capabilities in developing countries. As such a key contribution will be its reframing conceptual frameworks and policy debate away from a focus on older people as passive recipients of welfare and support, to an approach with recognises their potential agency as development actors. This will do much to break the mould of negative stereotypes of later life, which still underpins much of the thinking of global social and pension policy.


  • Armando Barrientos, University of Manchester
  • Peter Lloyd-Sherlock, University of East Anglia


  • João Sabioa, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Valerie Moller, Rhodes University, South Africa,
  • Monica Ferreira, University of Cape Town, South Africa
  • Astrid Walker, HelpAge International
  • Julia Mase, University of Manchester

Contact details

Armando Barrientos


  • Population ageing is unfolding a faster rate in developing countries than it did for currently developed ones. Developing countries have less time to set in place the institutions needed to meet the challenges of population ageing, and are disadvantaged by resource and governance constraints.

  • Public policy addressing ageing in developing countries should be informed by frameworks that emphasise active ageing and the promotion of older people’s capabilities as agents of development.

  • A handful of developing countries, including Brazil and South Africa have sought to address old age poverty and vulnerability through large-scale 'social pension' programmes, providing transfers to older people and their households.

  • A major study conducted in 2002 found that social pensions had a significant impact on poverty and vulnerability of beneficiary households. Its findings suggested that social pensions may have wider effects on the wellbeing, livelihoods, and social and economic integration of beneficiaries and their households.

  • This study will return to households included in the 2002 survey to provide a unique longitudinal database for the analysis of individual ageing, wellbeing, household dynamics, livelihoods, and public policy.


In the context of a comparative study of Brazil and South Africa, the research aims to explore the following questions:

  1. How do experiences of individual ageing interact with wellbeing, household dynamics, and livelihood patterns?
  2. Which theoretical frameworks are most appropriate to examining older people’s capabilities?
  3. Which institutions, policies, and interventions do most to promote active ageing?
  4. To what extent do social pensions and other anti-poverty programmes offer sustained protection from poverty and vulnerability, and facilitate older people’s contribution to development?


The methods and research objectives for the three phases of this study are as follows:

Phase I In this phase, researchers will map social policy addressing old age in the two countries, and collect a further wave of the 2002 household surveys in Brazil and South Africa, sampling over 1000 households in each country, including rural and urban settings. The survey instruments include a household questionnaire and older person supplement.

Phase II The main focus in this phase will be on qualitative data collection, and on the analysis of the household survey data. The qualitative data collection includes in-depth interviews with around 30 households each in Brazil and South Africa. The interviews will focus on the oldest respondents. They will assess the household survey data by providing qualitative insights into subjective perceptions of wellbeing, perceived pathways of causality and triangulating and deepening key quantitative insights. The analysis of the combined household and qualitative data in each country will explore the interactions of ageing, wellbeing, household dynamics, and livelihood patterns. This will be complemented with a comparative study of Brazil and South Africa, offering insights into the role of institutions and policies addressing ageing, poverty, and development.

Policy implications

More specifically, the project engages directly with international policy debates about poverty and vulnerability reduction, and of the role that social pensions and transfer programmes in general play in protecting living standards and enhancing economic opportunity. Both of these have attracted increasing attention over the past five years as key potential poverty reduction strategies in low and middle income countries. Our previous research contributed to this increased profile. This project will add an essential longitudinal element to the evidence about poverty reduction effects on older people and their households.

The research focuses on Brazil and South Africa, but our findings will have implications for policy and institution building in most developing countries.

Key policy issues covered by the research project:

  • What are the main impacts of individual ageing on vulnerable households in developing countries?

  • What institutional structures and social policies are needed in developing countries to address the challenges of population age, and especially to reduce poverty and vulnerability in old age and enhance the contribution of older people?

  • What are the main insights emerging from social pensions in Brazil and South Africa as regards the extension of social protection in developing countries?

  • How can we asses the effectiveness of social pensions and alternative instruments to reduce old age poverty in developing countries?


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