social safety net, that these pensions are well targeted to the poor, and, because of the large number of three-generation and skipped-generation households in South Africa, they reach many poor children. In addition, it seems that many of the unemployed survive through their links to related pensioners. More recent research has begun to explore the impact of these pensions on labor participation behavior.
Given all of the above, the dearth of research on the elderly themselves is surprising. We know very little about the circumstances of the elderly, their health, and how they cope with the pressures placed on them by the importance of their pension income to their extended families. Two recent studies have begun to address these issues (Møller and Devey, 2003; Møller and Ferreira, 2003). The first of these studies compares older and younger households on the basis of data from 1995 and 1998 national surveys, defining older households as those that include at least one member age 60 or older. The second study is based on a 2002 survey of the living conditions and financial and health situations of 1,111 older nonwhite households in Cape Town and the rural Eastern Cape. Here, older was defined as households containing 1 person age 55 or older.
The first study confirms that older households are larger and include larger numbers of dependents and unemployed members than younger households. In both 1995 and 1998, roughly half of older black households included three or more generations. Such households tend to be concentrated in rural areas. The Møller and Ferreira (2003) study shows that among black older households, the percentage of household members under age 25 was 58 percent in rural areas and 51 percent in urban areas. In contrast, less than a quarter of these household members were actually age 55 or older. Less than 10 percent of older people lived alone.
Møller and Devey (2003) show that many older black households are poor. However, access to state old age pensions strongly decreases the probability that such households fall into the lowest expenditure quintile. Pensioner households have better access to services and express significantly higher levels of satisfaction with their living conditions than nonpensioner older households.
Møller and Ferreira (2003) confirm the dominance of the state old age pension as the primary income source in older households. They found that pension income is often the sole income in these households, especially in rural areas. They describe three elements of a “gradient of disadvantage” that makes older rural households worse off than older urban households. First, household well-being as measured by income or expenditure per capita is lower in the rural households. Second, the drain on the resources of the rural elderly through expenditures on other members of the household is higher in rural areas. Third, urban households are far more successful at accessing other government grants, such as the child support grants and