Recent developments in social pensions in Latin America


Recent developments in social pensions in Latin America

Non-contributory pensions, also known as social pensions, are an important component of rights-based universal social protection systems. They allow extending pension coverage relatively rapidly to elderly persons who are not covered by contributory schemes. Usually financed by general revenues and providing relatively modest benefits, eligibility for social pensions is often conditional on low income or certain other criteria.

The right to social protection, including old age income security, is enshrined in various national constitutions and legal instruments at the international level, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966. Social protection features prominently in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, where it is regarded as an important contribution to achieving various Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These include the eradication of poverty (Goal 1), the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment (Goal 5), and the reduction of inequalities (Goal 10).

Social protection is thus a universal human right. Moreover, as recognized in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, investment into social protection is a key tool to build more inclusive and equitable societies, which can yield real economic returns. ILO Recommendation No. 202, adopted in 2012, gives guidance to countries in setting nationally defined social protection floors. It features a number of basic guarantees that comprise essential health care and income security across the life cycle, including during old age.

This article reviews the role of social pensions in Latin America in ensuring basic income security for the elderly in the region. It is based on information from the 2019 Americas edition of the International Social Security Association’s (ISSA) Social Security Programmes Throughout the World as well as good practices submitted by ISSA member institutions as part of the ISSA Good Practice Awards.

A snapshot of non-contributory pensions in the region

Non-contributory pensions are an increasingly important instrument for governments around the world to extend protection against the vulnerabilities and risks associated with old age. In no region is this more evident than in Latin America, where the number of non-contributory pension programmes has rapidly increased since the early 2000’s (ECLAC 2020b, p. 103).

The following table compiles the main non-contributory pensions in Latin American countries as of 1 July 2019 (excluding the islands of the Caribbean). It shows that social pensions exist in all countries in the region, except Honduras and Nicaragua. The two countries of Bolivia and Mexico offer universal old-age pensions, awarded solely based on the age and citizenship as well as residency status of the individual. All other countries with social pensions in the region perform a form of means- or income test to assess applicants’ eligibility for a benefit (see the ISSA country profiles for detailed information).

Table 1. Non-contributory pensions in Latin American countries, as of July 2019
Country Programme name Targeting Pension­able age Benefit amount Minimum wage
Argentina Pensión Universal para el Adulto Mayor (PUAM) Means and benefit test 65 80% of the minimum monthly old-age pension

Minimum monthly old-age pension: 11,528.44 pesos (June 2019); 20,571 pesos since March 2021.
12,500 pesos a month;

21,600 pesos since March 2021
Pensión No Contributiva por Vejez-PNC Vejez Means and benefit test 70 70% of the minimum monthly old-age pension

Minimum monthly old-age pension: 11,528.44 pesos (June 2019); 20,571 pesos since March 2021.
12,500 pesos a month;

21,600 pesos since March 2021
Bolivia Renta Dignidad Universal 60 4,550 bolivianos a year;

3,900 bolivianos a year if receiving another pension
2,122 bolivianos a month
Brazil Benefício de prestação continuada à pessoa idosa Means test 65 100% of the legal monthly minimum wage 998 reais a month
Chile Pensión Básica Solidaria de Vejez (PBSV) Means test 65 110,201 pesos a month 301,000 pesos a month if aged 18 to 65; otherwise 224,704 pesos (March 2019)
Colombia Colombia Mayor Means test 59 (men);
54 (women)
40,000 to 75,000 pesos a month 828,116 pesos a month
Costa Rica Régimen no contributivo de pensiones por monto básico Means test 65 At least 82,000 colones a month 309,143.36 to 663,772.10 colones a month, depending on the occupation
Ecuador Pensión para Adultos Mayores Income and benefit test 65 50 US dollars a month 394 US dollars a month
El Salvador Pensión Básica Universal Means and pension test 70 100 US dollars every two months USD 202.88 to USD 304.17 a month, depending on the economic sector
Guatemala Programa de Aporte Económico del Adulto Mayor Means and pension test 65 400 quetzales a month 2,742.37 quetzales a month (2,508.16 a month in the export or maquila industry)
Mexico Pensión para el Bienestar de las Personas Adultas Mayores Universal 65 1,275 pesos a month 102.68 pesos a day; 176.72 pesos in municipalities by the northern country border
Panama Pensión 120 a los 65 Means and pension test 65 120 balboas a month 265.20 to 601.46 balboas (40-hrs week) a month, depending on industry, region, and company size
Paraguay Pensión Alimentaria para Adultos Mayores Means and pension test 65 At least 25% of the legal monthly minimum wage 2,192,839 guaraníes a month
Peru Pensión 65 Means and pension test 65 250 soles every two months 930 soles a month
Uruguay Pensión por Vejez Means test 70
(65 in case of critical need)
11,160.29 pesos a month 15,000 pesos a month
Venezuela Gran Misión en Amor Mayor Income test 60 (men);
55 (women)
No information available 40,000 bolívares soberanos a month (April 2019)
Source: ISSA, country profiles, the Americas 2019 edition.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC 2020a, p. 121), the coverage of older persons by all contributory and non-contributory pensions expanded by nearly 10 percentage points between 2010 and 2019 in Latin America. This expansion was driven mainly by non-contributory pension programmes, which provide much smaller benefit amounts than contributory schemes (ibid). Looking at the national minimum wage as a reference in Table 1, these benefit amounts are particularly modest in some cases, while the most generous pensions are paid in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.

In the context of the persistent low coverage by contributory systems, high levels of inequality and pervasive informality, the introduction or expansion of social pensions has been an important tool to make pension systems more inclusive. As the relatively young populations in the region age, pressures to expand coverage horizontally while providing more adequate old-age protection to all members of society are likely to increase. Against this backdrop, recent reforms in Argentina and Mexico provide examples for the measures taken in the region.

Mexico: Expanding the old-age social pension

In Mexico, social pensions go back to a monthly universal benefit first introduced in 2001 in Mexico City. A subsequent non-contributory pension for persons in rural areas aged 70 or older was gradually expanded to become the first national social pension scheme in 2013. From its inception in 2007 to the national rollout in 2013, the number of beneficiaries under the programme increased from around 1 million to nearly 5 million (Avila-Parra and Escamilla-Guerrero 2017, pp. 34 ff.).

In January 2019, the Mexican government introduced a new universal pension programme – Programa Pensión para el Bienestar de las Personas Adultas Mayores. It replaced the previous social pension programme – Programa Pensión para Adultos Mayores (PPAM), which paid a periodic benefit to persons aged 65 or older who were neither receiving a contributory pension nor a benefit under the Prospera conditional cash transfer scheme greater than 1,092 Mexican pesos (MXN).

The new programme removed the means test and more than doubled the amount previously paid under the PPAM, increasing the pension from MXN 1,160 every two months to MXN 2,550 every two months (MXN 2,700 since January 2021). While the reform increased the eligibility age for the non-contributory pension from 65 years to 68 years for most persons, it was kept at 65 years for indigenous persons. Persons aged 65 to 67 who were receiving the social assistance pension as of December 2018 retained their right to a pension and automatically received the new benefit (see ISSA Mexico country profile).

According to government figures, only 23 per cent of women and 40 per cent of men who had reached the legal retirement age were receiving a contributory pension in February 2019; 26 per cent of the elderly had neither access to a contributory, a non-contributory pension, nor minimum income support (Secretary of Welfare 2019). The new programme increased the number of eligible beneficiaries for a non-contributory pension from approximately 5.5 million to around 8.5 million people. As of June 2020, 8,086,895 persons were receiving the new social pension (Secretary of Welfare 2020, p. 11). Out of these, 56 per cent were women and 44 per cent were men, counting 811,534 beneficiaries identified as indigenous persons (ibid). Therefore, the reform of the PPAM to a universal pension was good news for many elderly persons in the country.

Argentina: Making social security more accessible for vulnerable populations

In Argentina, the pension system has recently seen a remarkable expansion, with coverage of the population aged 65 and older increasing from 69 per cent to 91 per cent from 2005 to 2015 (Arza 2019, p. 30). This rapid increase was due mostly to a so-called pension moratorium, which allowed workers of retirement age to access a pension benefit regardless of whether they had completed the required 30 years of social security contributions through formal employment. Unpaid contributions were discounted from pension payments at a reduced rate. Under this semi-contributory programme, persons who reached the legal retirement age without the required contribution years were able to receive at least a basic benefit.

As this temporary measure is being replaced by a tax-financed social pension – Pensión Universal Adulto Mayor (PUAM), the role of non-contributory benefits is gaining prominence. The PUAM was introduced in 2016, and covers persons aged 65 or older who are not receiving any other pension, including natu¬ralized citizens with at least ten years of residence in Argentina and foreign citizens with at least 20 years of residence (see ISSA 2017a). Initially, receipt of the pension could be combined with income from work without restriction. Beginning in 2019 however, a means and income test was introduced, aimed at targeting payments to more vulnerable populations (see ISSA Argentina country profile).

This ambition is also at the heart of the Bienestar para Nuestra Gente programme. First introduced in 2010, the programme seeks to ensure the realization of indigenous persons’ right to social security. Within its scope, Argentina's National Social Security Administration (Administración Nacional de la Seguridad Social – ANSES) identified a number of barriers that indigenous persons face regarding access to benefits, namely the PUAM and a set of non-contributory family benefits (see ISSA 2017b). These barriers include geographical and infrastructural limitations (such as access to urban areas, where customer service points are located; and lack of public transport or poor roads); difficulties due to language use and cultural background; relations between municipalities and indigenous communities; and discriminatory attitudes  (e.g. at civil registries, schools, or banks).

To address these difficulties, ANSES adapted its social security operations to geographical, cultural and time gaps in reaching individuals; coordinated with other government bodies to ensure a local presence and mutual support; and pursued outreach campaigns on social security rights in Spanish and native languages using different formats (posters, brochures, radio spots). It also organized workshops involving indigenous leaders and community role models. In these workshops, members learned about their social security rights and community leaders were trained in the use of the ANSES website to access various services online. Finally, intercultural exchanges like screening movies in communities were arranged to promote mutual understanding and build trust. Through these activities, ANSES has built organizational knowledge on delivering programmes in different regional and ethnic settings (see ISSA 2017b).

In 2010, a census counted 955,032 indigenous persons in Argentina, which represents 2.4 per cent of the national population (ANSES 2019). Many of these persons live dispersed in urban areas, and are fully integrated there. However, a sizable share continues to live in predominantly rural communities, preserving traditional ways of life. Social security extends its arm to these communities fundamentally through non-contributory benefits like the PUAM (see ISSA 2017b).


Social pensions are an important instrument in Latin America to reduce poverty and offer basic income security in old age. As part of national social protection floors and complementary to efforts to extend contributory schemes, they play a vital role in protecting persons so far not covered by contributory old-age benefits. These comprise persons with low or irregular incomes in their work histories, informal sector workers, and persons with periods in precarious forms of work or without employment.

Overall, women are more likely than men to draw a social pension, owing to gendered inequalities and discriminations. They are more likely than men to have interrupted work histories, and tend to have a lower lifetime income and less formal education and training. In Mexico, as in many other countries, fewer women than men have access to a contributory pension. Since women usually live longer, they are therefore exposed to income insecurity for longer periods in life. In such settings, social pensions can make a real difference.

In Argentina, indigenous persons face a number of barriers in accessing social protection. To overcome these, ANSES adopted a dedicated communication strategy to make contact with communities and build a relationship of trust. Forthcoming ISSA articles will look into other innovations that can help protect vulnerable groups, like the indigenous and persons in informal work.

Providing basic income security to the vulnerable, the receipt of social pensions reduces pressures on the elderly to undertake work or rely on savings and family members’ support to meet their basic needs. In doing so, social pensions can be a tool to mitigate the effect of existing labour-market divisions as well as income and other inequalities.


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Arza, C. 2019. "Basic Old‐Age Protection in Latin America: Noncontributory Pensions, Coverage Expansion Strategies, and Aging Patterns across Countries", in Population and Development Review, Vol. 45, No. S1.

Avila-Parra, C.; Escamilla-Guerrero D. 2017. What Are the Effects of Expanding a Social Pension Program on Extreme Poverty and Labor Supply? Evidence from Mexico's Pension Program for the Elderly (Working Paper No. 8229). Washington, DC. World Bank.

ECLAC. 2020a. Social Panorama of Latin America. Santiago de Chile, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. Auch auf Spanisch erhältlich.

ECLAC. 2020b. Universal Social Protection in Latin America and the Caribbean: Selected texts 2006-2019. Santiago de Chile, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. Auch auf Spanisch erhältlich.

ILO. 2012. Recommendation No. 202. Geneva, International Labour Organization.

ISSA. 2017a. Universal pension for the elderly (Good practices in the Americas). Geneva, International Social Security Association.

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ISSA. 2019. Country profiles, the Americas edition. Geneva, International Social Security Association.

Secretary of Welfare. 2019. Programa para el Bienestar de las Personas Adultas Mayores. Mexico City.

Secretary of Welfare. 2020. Programas de Subsidio del Ramo Administrativo 20. Mexico City.

UN General Assembly. 1948. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. New York, 10 December.

UN General Assembly. 1966. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. New York, 16 December.