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The economic well-being of older people in international perspective: a critical review


  • Disney, Richard
  • Whitehouse, Edward


This paper surveys a dozen international comparative studies of poverty, income distribution and older people in industrialized countries using data up to the mid-1990s. It addresses a series of questions. At what level are the incomes of the elderly relative to the population as a whole? How has this changed over the past two decades? How many of the old are poor? How many of the poor are old? Are the oldest of the old poorer than younger pensioners are? The results show that the incomes of older people are typically around 80 per cent of incomes of the whole population. This ratio has been increasing over the past two decades in most countries. Although there remain pockets of poverty among the elderly, the old are generally represented proportionally or under-represented among the poor.

Suggested Citation

  • Disney, Richard & Whitehouse, Edward, 2002. "The economic well-being of older people in international perspective: a critical review," MPRA Paper 10333, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:10333

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Steven F. Venti & David A. Wise, 1990. "But They Don't Want to Reduce Housing Equity," NBER Chapters,in: Issues in the Economics of Aging, pages 13-32 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Ruth Hancock, 1998. "Can housing wealth alleviate poverty among Britain's older population?," Fiscal Studies, Institute for Fiscal Studies, vol. 19(3), pages 249-272, August.
    3. Foster, James & Greer, Joel & Thorbecke, Erik, 1984. "A Class of Decomposable Poverty Measures," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 52(3), pages 761-766, May.
    4. Bateman,Hazel & Kingston,Geoffrey & Piggott,John, 2001. "Forced Saving," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521481625, May.
      • Bateman,Hazel & Kingston,Geoffrey & Piggott,John, 2001. "Forced Saving," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521484718, May.
    5. Whitehouse, Edward, 2000. "How poor are the old? a survey of evidence from 44 countries," Social Protection and Labor Policy and Technical Notes 23141, The World Bank.
    6. Disney, Richard & Whitehouse, Edward, 2001. "Cross-country comparisons of pensioners’ incomes," MPRA Paper 16345, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    7. Ermisch, John F. & Jenkins, Stephen P., 1999. "Retirement and housing adjustment in later life: evidence from the British Household Panel Survey," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(2), pages 311-333, June.
    8. Megbolugbe, Isaac & Sa-Aadu, J. & Shilling, James D., 1999. "Elderly Female-Headed Households and the Decision to Trade Down," Journal of Housing Economics, Elsevier, vol. 8(4), pages 285-300, December.
    9. Bernheim, B Douglas & Shleifer, Andrei & Summers, Lawrence H, 1986. "The Strategic Bequest Motive," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 4(3), pages 151-182, July.
    10. Richard Disney, 1996. "Can We Afford to Grow Older?," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 026204157x, January.
    11. Michael F. Förster, 2000. "Trends and Driving Factors in Income Distribution and Poverty in the OECD Area," OECD Labour Market and Social Policy Occasional Papers 42, OECD Publishing.
    12. Whitehouse, Edward, 2001. "Pension systems in 15 countries compared: the value of entitlements," MPRA Paper 14751, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    13. Jonathan Feinstein & Daniel McFadden, 1989. "The Dynamics of Housing Demand by the Elderly: Wealth, Cash Flow, and Demographic Effects," NBER Chapters,in: The Economics of Aging, pages 55-92 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    14. Edward R. Whitehouse, 2003. "The Value of Pension Entitlements: A Model of Nine OECD Countries," OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 9, OECD Publishing.
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    Cited by:

    1. Flood, Lennart & Klevmarken, N. Anders & Mitrut, Andreea, 2006. "The Income of the Swedish Baby Boomers," IZA Discussion Papers 2354, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

    More about this item


    pension; retirement; income distribution;

    JEL classification:

    • H55 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Social Security and Public Pensions
    • J14 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of the Elderly; Economics of the Handicapped; Non-Labor Market Discrimination
    • I32 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Measurement and Analysis of Poverty


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