2.4.2 Generational Inequality: Adolescents and Older Adults

Facts/messages: In order to avoid repeating the analyses carried out in Chapter III, this section should be carefully focused. The focus chosen here has to do primarily with the poverty status of young people and older adults, compared to other population groups, and with the transfers between generations.

Adolescents and young people are faced with a range of inequalities and social, political and cultural exclusion, as manifested by the high levels of youth unemployment and underemployment, educational marginalization, lack of access to health, especially SRH services, and the absence of mechanisms for citizen participation. Poverty among youth is closely tied to their unemployment and underemployment. Policies to address youth poverty must therefore focus, as a matter of priority, on eliminating barriers to youth employment. With regard to their labour situation, current cohorts of adolescents and young people may be at a disadvantage with respect to those that come behind them because their numbers are still relatively large in comparison to the smaller birth cohorts that will enter the labour market in years to come. Moreover, the opportunities created by the demographic bonus within society as a whole will only be converted into meaningful benefits to the extent that countries make decisive investments in the formation of human capital in this population group. Adolescents and young people require special attention, as many of them are exposed to violations of their human rights, including reproductive rights. Yet Poverty Reduction Strategies may not view youth issues as a priority or even fail to make reference to the issue of the demographic bonus. Young women need to be an important focus for policy interventions to achieve MDG 6 as they are 2-6 times more likely to be HIV positive as men of the same age. Young people are not a homogeneous group inasmuch as they display not only inequities compared to other age groups, but also within the group of young people itself.

Social transfers, together with family and kin transfers and support are the most important sources of support mechanisms for most of the elderly. In countries that have a pension system with high coverage, poverty rates among the elderly tend to be lower than among the general population. Other sources include assets, wages and private pensions. But in countries that do not have functional pension systems, poverty levels for the elderly may be higher than those for younger people. Increased prevalence of cohabitation with children can be related to the scale of other flows, with the exact direction of causality often unclear. If poverty levels of the elderly are measured at the household level, as they usually are, poverty will tend to be underestimated, since the elderly are considered within the household of the entire family.

In some societies, inter-generational violence arises from poverty situations, which is a major threat to the well-being of the elderly. It is often aggravated by low literacy, poor health and malnutrition as well as a lack of awareness, access to information and participation in political decision-making. Access to basic social services, including health care and adequate shelter, is limited for many of the world’s older poor. Poor women are especially affected, particularly if they are widowed or childless. In many traditional societies, women are dependent on fathers, husbands and sons, and find themselves with no support when they are alone. Elderly men usually face better economic conditions, but may be more vulnerable to social isolation, which can translate into poverty in situations where most of the support of the elderly is provided by younger family members.

Methodology: A common strategy for the analysis of special population groups is to separate data on these groups from those describing the general population and then to use these data for a destailed description of the group in question, whether it be adolescents, young people, older adults or any other particular group. This strategy can provide useful information, particularly on base lines for interventions that target the particular group. Following this practice, it is recommended to use quantitative data regarding the situation of young people in each of the areas analyzed with regard to SRH. The indicators to be used are the same as those used previously, with an emphasis on those relating to SRH. The relevant age group should be specified. UNFPA, in accordance with inter-agency agreements, is considering as adolescents those aged 10-19 years; as youth those aged 15-24, and as young people the 10-24 year old age group as a whole. One typically overlooked group in urgent need of preventive outreach efforts is the group aged 10-14 years, although unfortunately the information available for this group is usually scarce. In addition, use qualitative data that has been collected or that one decides to collect specifically for this exercise. Note that some forms of survey data may not adequately capture relevant or sufficient information about the types of poverty experienced by young people.

It should be emphasized, however, that analyses purely based on the description of group characteristics from data that refer only to the particular group have major limitations and can be rather meaningless, particularly if they mechanically repeat the analyses that one would carry out for the population as a whole. For instance, in the population as a whole one will normally find that the level of access to services is better in the higher than in the lower socio-economic strata. Repeating this same analysis for adolescents adds relatively little relevant information, unless the objective is to define and estimate the size of a particular intervention group or if the pattern of inequality among adolescents is markedly different from that in the general population and therefore requires different explanations and different intervention strategies. But in order to verify the latter, it is necessary to compare adolescents to other population groups. If the objective is to demonstrate the relative disadvantage of adolescents, which is the objective of this section, comparison with other groups is even more indispensable. In general, analyses with respect to particular population groups usually gain much in relevance and depth if they are not limited to a description of the group in question, but analyze this group relative to others.

Use poverty surveys that provide age-specific data to highlight the incidence of poverty among elderly, using the income of individual household members. As in the case of adolescents, the analysis gains much in depth and relevance if it is carried out comparatively to other population groups. Rather than just using household income, try to identify the income of individual household members, to avoid the problem referred to above. In order to evaluate how generational transfers affect older adults, National Transfer Accounts (NTA) may be used, in countries where this information is available. At present, this project is being implemented in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Finland, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Mozambique, Nigeria, Philippines, Senegal, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, Uruguay, UK, USA. The empirical basis of the model is the disaggregation of national account data by population age and sex groups. Its purpose is to measure at the aggregate level the reallocations of shift of economic resources from one age group to another. These reallocations occur because at some ages, individuals consume more than they produce, while at other ages they produce more than they consume. The NTA system documents the means by which the young and the old, those with lifecycle deficits, draw on the lifecycle surplus generated during the prime working ages. In countries that are not part of the project, setting up a transfer accounting system from the beginning is probably too time-consuming for the purposes of the PSA.

Another possibility for analysis is to break down overall income inequality by major age groups and possibly by sex, to see how much of it is due to inequality between age groups and within age groups. In the case of youth, for instance, inequality within the group is usually relatively low, but the group as a whole has much lower income than the 25-64 year age group. As a by-product, this kind of analysis may shed light on how over-all income inequality is likely to change as a consequence of changing age structures.

Primary Sources:

  • Household surveys of the Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS) type;
  • DHS and other specialized surveys;
  • Population censuses;
  • Qualitative studies to analyze issues that have been less often studied.

Secondary Sources:


  • Lamlenn B. Samson (2008). Guidance note for the in-depth analysis of data from a Population and Housing Census. Dakar, CST: sections on the Situation of Children, Adolescents and Youth and on the Situation of Elderly Persons.

74   Alberto Palloni (2002). Living Arrangements of Older Persons. Madison WI, Center for Demography and Ecology, University of Wisconsin.
75   This kind of analysis was pioneered by Morley, S. (1981). “The effects of changes in the population on several measures of income distribution.” The American Economic Review 71 (3): 285-94.