Economic security, health and disability, and living conditions in old age are policy concerns throughout the world, but the nature of the problem differs considerably from continent to continent and between and within countries. In sub-Saharan Africa older people make up a relatively small fraction of the total population, and traditionally their main source of support has been the household and family, supplemented in many cases by other informal mechanisms, such as kinship networks and mutual aid societies. Although very little careful empirical research has been undertaken on long-term trends in the welfare of older people, there are a number of reasons to believe that traditional caring and social support mechanisms in sub-Saharan Africa are under increasing strain.
Located on the least developed and poorest continent, African economies are still heavily dependent on subsistence agriculture, and average income per capita is now lower than it was at the end of the 1960s. Consequently, the region contains a growing share of the world’s poor. In addition, reductions in fertility and child mortality have meant that, despite the huge impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic across much of the region, both the absolute size and the proportion of the population age 60 and over have grown and will continue to grow over the next 30 years.