Living Longer, Living Harder: Ageing in Extreme Poverty in Bangladesh

by Owasim Akram

Demographic projections suggest that global ageing is gradually shifting to the South. Although older persons are rapidly becoming the majority among the extreme poor populations in developing countries, little is known about their life context.

In Bangladesh, around 14 million people are over the age of 60. Despite the demographic projections, the country is not yet prepared for an ageing society. Both the intensity and the persistence of poverty being experienced at old age have been thoroughly underestimated in research. On the other hand, conventional discussions on ageing and poverty have mostly stressed on economic and resource deprivation. This approach grossly ignores the fact that living with dignity, care and attention matter a lot to the older persons than anything else. This hardly receives any attention in the academic domain specially in poverty and ageing research. Furthermore, extreme poor older persons are not only asset poor but also significantly relations and dignity poor, which further deepen their vulnerability and marginality. At the same time, there is no clear agreement on what constitutes extreme poverty. All these suggest that it is crucial to consider the temporal as well as intergenerational aspects to understand better the relations between ageing and extreme poverty. The process can be further explained using the Capability Approach through a lifecycle-based interdisciplinary framework.

With this brief background in mind, the PhD research seeks to answer the following questions:

  1. How is ageing experienced in a shrinking social space with extreme poverty conditions?
  2. What are the patterns of relations, bargains/trade-offs, household and societal dynamics, costs and opportunities associated with the older extreme poor?
  3. What are the (social & public) policy directions the findings referring to?

The research relies on different qualitative tools to generate a detailed understanding of the lived context of ageing. First, primary data has been collected from 37 older persons through life history interviews. Respondents are persons aged from 60 and upwards from a mixed background of single, married, male, female, living alone, living with children, living without children, widowed, living in old age homes etc. The participants are selected from different extreme poverty pockets of Bangladesh. Second, the research is relying on a secondary qualitative panel dataset conducted as part of a larger extreme poverty graduate programme in Bangladesh to generate further nuanced understanding. This dataset consists of 72 households, which have been followed over five years. To understand the policy process and to arrive at a critical policy narrative, the research aims to carry out a number of elite interviews with selected high-level public officials, elected representatives, law makers and practitioners.