‘Demographic transition, Intergenerational Contracts and Old Age security: emerging challenges for social policy’ IDS Social Policy Working Paper No. 157, Sussex

The world’s population is ageing rapidly as a result of demographic transition, and it is currently ageing most rapidly in the developing world. Ageing is consequently set to become a key development issue and a challenge for social policy. Yet a review of the literature suggests that research on ageing in the Southern context, particularly those countries undergoing demographic transition, is still in its infancy.

This paper reviews some of this literature, organising the analysis around the concept of ‘inter-generational contract’, the set of norms, rules, conventions and practices which govern the relationship between different generations at the level of families and at the level of society. It offers evidence that there is a reconstitution in these contracts underway in many societies, reflecting and in turn contributing to, the changing beliefs, values and material realities which tend to accompany demographic transition.

Although there is much greater diversity in the situation of the elderly than is often recognised by many of the studies reviewed, there is a perceptible shift within this literature from an earlier consensus which saw the elderly as well cared for and supported within the family to a growing view that they constitute a vulnerable group within families. We briefly explore the implications of our findings for a research agenda on this issue as well as for social policies to meet the needs and promote the rights of elderly cohorts.

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