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Citation Information

Type Working Paper - Aging in sub-Saharan Africa: Recommendations for furthering research
Title The situation of older people in poor urban settings: The case of Nairobi, Kenya
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2006
Page numbers 189-213
URL http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK20309/?report=printable
Urban growth in sub-Saharan Africa continues to be fueled by rural-urban migration, especially of youths and young adults under 30 years of age. For many African countries, this trend dates back to the early 1960s with the attainment of independence in some of the countries. Drawn largely by the expanding urban economies and social amenities in the 1960s and 1970s, which offered opportunities for cash or wage employment and trade, city-ward migration soon became associated with social and economic mobility (Anderson, 2001; Barber and Milne, 1988; Bigsten, 1996; Johnnie, 1988; Nigeria Institute of Social and Economic Research, 1997). Residence in cities quickly became a status symbol for at least the rural residents in many parts of Africa, and this, among other reasons, has continued to propel this pattern of migration and rapid urbanization in the region.

Africa’s rapid urbanization has occurred amidst stagnating economies and poor governance, which have created massive and abject poverty in overcrowded slum settlements across major cities in the region. Recent studies have highlighted huge inequities in social indicators and in health and reproductive health outcomes between the urban poor and other subgroups, including residents of rural areas, with the urban poor recording the worst outcomes (African Population and Health Research Center, 2002; Dodoo, Zulu, and Ezeh, forthcoming; Gulis, Mulumba, Juma, and Kakosova, 2003; Magadi, Zulu, and Brockerhoff, 2003; Zulu, Dodoo, and Ezeh, 2003). Despite the poor outcomes observed among the urban poor in sub-Saharan Africa, cities continue to attract a large influx of migrants from rural areas, causing urban growth to remain high across sub-Saharan Africa (Government of Kenya, 2000; Oucho, 1998).

Migration to urban areas has generally been thought of as a temporary phenomenon, with migrants maintaining strong ties with their rural origins (Grant, 1995; Gugler, 1991; Trager, 1998). The assumption has also been that they will return to their rural homes upon retirement. However, the presence and the growing numbers of older people in urban areas call for a better understanding of the context of aging in sub-Saharan Africa as well as the situation of older people living in urban areas in the region. These urban areas are characterized by worsening economic and social conditions, especially in the sprawling, informal settlements of cities across sub-Saharan Africa.

Even though sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest proportion of people age 60 and older, at about 5 percent compared with 10 percent globally, the region has one of the highest rates of growth for this age group, with projections reaching as high as 12 percent of the region’s total population by 2050 (Population Reference Bureau, 2005; World Health Organization, 2002). Recent comparative analysis of Demographic and Health Survey data conducted in the early to mid-1990s in 20 sub-Saharan African countries noted that, on average, people 60 years and over accounted for about 6 percent of the population, with the average for Southern African countries reaching 7 percent (Ayad and Otto, 1997). In Kenya, various estimates put the proportion age 60 and over at about 4 percent (Thumbi, 2005). The 1999 Kenyan census puts the proportion 60 and over at 4.7 percent, significantly lower compared with the 6.1 percent recorded in the 1989 census (Republic of Kenya, 2001). These differences may result from age misreporting in censuses and surveys, especially for older ages, since interviewers generally rely on physical features to estimate age.

Little research has focused on older people in sub-Saharan Africa. The limited work that has been done has focused mostly on rural areas, and attention to older people living in urban areas is almost nonexistent. This paper aims to reduce this dearth of knowledge by exploring the living arrangements, economic activities, and health status of older people living in two informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya.

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