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Universal pension systems in developing countries

Hi, I'm a social policy student and interested in universal social protection - its challenges and successes - in developing world. Global social policy and protection is something that my home university is not really focusing on. This is the reason I am writing here. I would very much appreciate if there are any tips of recent authors, researchers or studies focusing on the development of universal pension systems in developing countries (= low income and lower middle income countries). I have already found several articles on the subject but most of them are at least 5-10 years old and mostly reports of e.g. World Bank and United Nations. I am mostly interested in the development of universal systems and how it was politically and financially possible in poor countries like Namibia and Bolivia and few other. My interest is to make a comparative study on these few low income countries which have managed to create this universal system and also possibly to make some implications on how this could be possible for other countries too (having in mind the fact that universal system is considered to be most effective in reduction of poverty and inequality). Any tips or ideas on this topic?  

Hello Jenni,

In regards to your queries, I find the following discussions/papers particularly interesting. For instance, Bloom and McKinnon look into the issues of coverage in low-income countries examining the political context of redistribution, then moving on to risk coverage as a predominant option for intermediate level countries. This is a recent publication released in  2013, here.

On the impact of reforms as well as the linkages between pension systems and economic development, this book: "Reforming Pensions in Developing and Transition Countries" offers a comprehensive review/discussion of the impacts of non-contributory benefits in Brazil, Chile and South-Africa. There is also more to it with the cases of Argentina and Bolivia vis-à-vis state-oriented interventions within the landscape of neo-liberal reforms in Latin-America. The publication year is 2014.

In terms of analysis of economic security, especially for income flows and risk management, this policy paper by Stephen Kidd (2015), here, goes a bit further into the modeling of pension systems with an emphasis on a three-tiers framewok. As a basic adaptive model, the author also underscores the importance of two fundamental principles, namely, access to minimum income for older people and consumption smoothing to manage risk in the event of income or expenditure shocks. Among some of the case studies, you can find country discussions ranging from Bolivia, to China (with its Rural Social Pension program), as well as Bangladesh addressing aspects of budgeting and long-term economic growth.

Over the past couple of years the concept of fiscal space has also gained some steam broadening the debates on countries with low administrative capacity. In the midst of these discussions, population size and benefit level of pension programs are tackled to provide more comprehensive policy responses. These elements are consistent with this position paper by HelpAge International (2011), here, giving more insights into how shifts in political preferences (family, gender, or rights and justice, just to name a few) can help reframe financing through fairness/equity in taxation to support basic access to universal pension for the poor.

Hi Jenni!

I thought that I could point you some resources available on the platform:

Better Pensions, Better Jobs: Towards Universal Coverage in Latin America and the Caribbean (2013)

Establishing Comprehensive National Old Age Pension Systems (2015)

People's Republic of China: Universal Pension Extension (2015)

Cabo Verde. Universal pensions for older persons (2015)

I whish you good luck with your study!



Hi Jenni,

About the assumption that universal systems are considered to be the most effective in terms of poverty and inequality reduction, I suggest the text by Marx, Salanauskaite & Verbist (2013) (please find the reference below). These authors revisited the "paradox of redistribution" argument (originally developed by Korpi and Palme), taking into account the most recent trends in social protection, especially what is happening in Scandinavia.

Best, Luis.

Marx, Ive, Salanauskaite, Lina & Verbist, Gerlinde. “The Paradox of Redistribution Revisited: And That It May Rest in Peace?”. IZA Discussion Paper no. 7414. Bonn, May 2013.


As your interest seems to be focused on "how it was politically and financially possible", for the case of Bolivia you may want to look at:

Katharina Müller: Contested universalism: from Bonosol to Renta Dignidad in Bolivia; International Journal of Social Welfare, Volume 18, Issue 2, pages 163–172, April 2009. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2397.2008.00579.x

Best of luck with your research!


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