Pensions, consumption and health: evidence from rural South Africa

Peter Lloyd-Sherlock*, Sutapa Agrawal, Francesc Xavier Gómez-Olivé

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Increasing numbers of older people in sub-Saharan Africa are gaining access to pension benefits and it is often claimed that these benefits promote healthy forms of consumption, which contribute to significant improvements in their health status. However, evidence to support these claims is limited. 

Methods: The paper uses data for 2701 people aged 60 or over who participated in a population-based study in rural north-eastern South Africa. It analyses effects of receiving a pension on reported food scarcity, body mass index and patterns of consumption. 

Results: The paper finds that living in a pension household is associated with a reduced risk of reported food scarcity and with higher levels of consumption of food and drink. The paper does not find that living in a pension household is associated with a higher prevalence of current smoking nor current alcohol consumption. However, the paper still finds that tobacco and alcohol make up over 40% of reported food and drink consumption, and that the correlation between reported food scarcity and body mass index status is imperfect. 

Conclusions: The paper does not show significant associations between pension receipt and the selected risk factors. However, the context of prevalent obesity and high shares of household spending allocated to tobacco and alcohol call into question widely-made claims that pensions enhance healthy consumption among older people in low and middle-income countries.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1577
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2020
Externally publishedYes

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