What and where?

Over 100 countries around the world have some kind of social pension, but the design and coverage varies significantly. The following three classifications help to give an idea of the different kinds of social pensions which exist.

1. Universal age pensions

Universal "age" pensions are those where the eligibility is based solely on the age of the individual and history of citizenship/residency. The following 15 countries have such pensions:

Bolivia               Botswana        Brunei Darussalam
Cook Islands Guyana Kiribati
Kosovo Mauritius Namibia
Netherlands New Zealand Samoa
Suriname Timor-Leste Seychelles

Some countries have universal age pensions which work geographically. Mexico has such pensions for residents of Mexico city, residents of Chiapas state and individuals living in rural areas. Brazil's Previdencia Rural - though loosely contributory - effectively creates a universal age pension in rural areas.

A number of countries are currently running pilots of universal age pensions; including Kenya (Hunger Safety Net Programme), Zambia (Social Cash Transfer Programme) and Uganda (Senior Citizen's Grant).

2. Universal minimum pensions

A universal minimum pension is one which effectively ensures that any person over a certain age will receive a pension. However, they have a "pensions-test" which excludes individuals who have some other form of pension (often incrementally).

At least 25 countries have this kind of pension.

Armenia Azerbaijan  Bahamas  
Barbados Belarus Bermuda
Cyprus Estonia Finland
Kazakhstan Kyrgyzstan Latvia
Lesotho Lithuania Maldives
Moldova Nepal Panama
St. Vincent and the Grenadines Swaziland Sweden
Switzerland Thailand Turkmenistan
Viet Nam    

It is worth noting that pensions-tested pensions will play different roles in the pension system depending on the coverage of other pension schemes. In countries like Lesotho, Nepal and Swaziland - where coverage of other pensions is very low - they perform a similar role to a universal age pension.

On the other hand, in post-soviet states like Moldova or Kyrgyzstan - where most people are eligible for some other kind of pension - they play a smaller role. In such countries, most of the poverty reduction function is provided through contributory pensions. While this is adequate for now, rising informality and migration suggests there will be a larger role for non-contributory pensions in the future.

3. Means-tested pensions

Means-tested social pensions are those where eligibility is based on a test of the income and/or assets of an individual. Targeting approaches vary significantly. Many also include a pensions-test within broader criteria.

At least 45 countries have a means-tested social pension.

Argentina Australia Austria


Belgium Belize
Brazil (urban) Cape Verde Chile
Colombia Costa Rica Denmark
Dominican Rep. Ecuador France
Georgia Greece Hong Kong
Hungary India Indonesia
Ireland Israel Italy
Jamaica Kenya Korea, Rep. of
Mongolia Norway Paraguay
Peru Philippines Portugal
Slovenia South Africa Spain
Trinidad and T. Turkey Ukraine
United Kingdom USA Uruguay
Uzbekestan Venezuela Viet Nam

In some countries, means-tested pensions perform a very similar role to universal age or minimum pensions. The best example of this is South Africa where the Old Age Grant covers the vast majority of older people, despite having a means test.

At the other extreme, it can be hard to draw the line between means-tested social pensions, and broader social assistance programmes. Many more countries than those listed above may target older people who miss out from other pensions through a catch-all poverty-targeted safety net.

Can you help?

We do our best to gather information on existing social pensions, but it may be that we have missed something. Please contact us at info@pension-watch.net if you have any more information about a social pension scheme.

More information on individual schemes can be found through the country fact file.