The vulnerability of older adults: what do census data say? An application to Uganda

  • Valérie Golaz INED-IRD, CEPED (UMR 196 Université Paris Descartes) attached to the CPAS, Makerere University
  • Gideon Rutaremwa Centre for Population and Applied Statistics (CPAS), Makerere University


Older adults are generally considered as being among the most vulnerable groups of the population. Yet, being over 55, 60 or 65 years old, does not necessarily mean being vulnerable in any way. Older adults are stakeholders in a social system in which they both receive and give. In Africa, where rapid population growth and economic changes have greatly transformed livelihoods in the past century, the social role of the older population has also undergone substantial change. Even in a context where their power is being eroded, older adults are often involved as providers until very late in life. In a situation where social security for pensioners is almost non-existent, elderly persons who need special care rely exclusively on their children or their social networks. According to their economic or family situation, the capability of older people to withstand difficulties is highly variable. In this context, we define in this paper two components of the vulnerability of older adults based on the structure of the household: structural and relational vulnerabilities. Then, using data from Uganda Population and Housing Censuses of 1991 and 2002, we measure the situations of vulnerability affecting older adults and possible changes that have taken place in this regard over the past two decades in this country. In Uganda older men and women are about equal in numbers. Men are less frequently in situations of vulnerability, however. Logically, the prevalence of vulnerability among older adults increases with age, but has not significantly changed from 1991 to 2002. Structural and relational vulnerability affect women much more frequently than men. Disability is more common among older adults in situations of structural vulnerability than among others, i.e. among older adults who live alone and have children in their care, which questions the capacity of family support systems to care for their members.