Posted September 1999
This working draft was developed jointly by David Iaquinta while a Visiting Scientist at FAO (presently Chair, Sociology/Anthropology/ Social Work, Nebraska Wesleyan University), Jacques du Guerny (Chief, Population Programme Service, FAO) and Libor Stloukal (Population Programme Service, FAO). Comments received from Gerard Ciparisse, Jim Riddell and Paolo Groppo (Land Tenure Service, FAO) and Alain Marcoux (Population Programme Service, FAO) are acknowledged with appreciation.
The objective of this paper is to stimulate discussion among population, land tenure, and agricultural specialists. It is very much a 'work in progress' contribution. Our main intention is to identify the possible effects of demographic ageing on intergenerational transfers of land and formulate a set of intuitively plausible research questions which in our opinion warrant further exploration. Unfortunately, we lack empirical data to test most of our hypotheses. Therefore, we invite all those concerned with rural development in poorer countries to comment on this paper and, if possible, make available evidence to prove or disprove our propositions. Received reactions, comments and criticisms will be acknowledged.
The need to better understand the various implications of rural population ageing has increasingly been recognized in recent years. Previous analyses produced by students of rural population change have focused mainly on the demographic and social dimensions of the ageing process, highlighting issues such as growing relative or absolute numbers of the elderly in various rural regions, transformation of rural households' structure, changing needs for social services in rural areas, etc. However, surprisingly little attention has been devoted to researching rural ageing as a factor influencing the agricultural sector.
In this paper, we address the relationships between population ageing, intergenerational transfers of land and agricultural production. In particular, we explore the question of whether the process of population ageing affects the ways in which land is passed on between members of different generations. We also investigate what implications the ageing-related changes in intergenerational transfers are likely to have for food production in developing countries. The paper concentrates primarily on rural population ageing in contexts where the individual ownership of land or natural resources is a predominant socio-economic phenomenon. However, in several sub-regional contexts, rural societies are structured on the communal use of resources instead of an individual right to use (or abuse) these resources. In such contexts, the implications of population ageing are likely to be quite different, and perhaps more complicated, than in settings where land is mostly privately owned.
It is important to emphasize that this paper conceptualizes the role of the elderly in a way that differs significantly from the commonly adopted approaches. As discussed by Adamchak (1989), the elderly are usually viewed in one of four distinct perspectives: (a) as a group of low priority; (b) as an impediment to development; (c) as victims of modernization; (d) as resources. Note that most of these conventional views treat the elderly as a passive and largely inconsequential entity. In this paper, we consider the elderly as necessary actors in social networks. Thus, we see the elderly as playing a dynamic role in exchange relationships between generations, and therefore acting as one of the decisive forces in social affairs.
The paper consists of five sections. We begin the discussion in section two where we present a conceptual framework expressing the linkages between population ageing, land tenure arrangements, intergenerational transfers, agricultural production and food security. In section three we look in more detail at intergenerational transfers, distinguishing between land and non-land transfers. In section four we turn to the examination of the effects of population ageing on the various dimensions of intergenerational transfers; we also sketch the potential implications for agricultural production. Each segment of this section is concluded with several research questions that we believe hold promise and require additional examination. Finally, in section five we draw some conclusions regarding future work in this area and indicate possible policy implications of the interface between population ageing, transfers of land, and agricultural production.
The relationship between rural population ageing, land tenure system, intergenerational transfers of land, agricultural production and food security is a complex one; moreover, it is mediated by a range of factors that vary in importance across regions, countries and social groups, as well as over time. In Figure 1 we introduce one possible - and admittedly very simplified - representation of the basic components in this relationship. We posit that the transition from a 'young' to an 'old' population age structure can influence both land tenure systems and intergenerational transfers of land. Changes in these two components, in turn, influence the performance of the food-producing sector. Production of food, together with several other factors which are not the focus of this paper, then co-determines food security. In other words, we maintain that rural population ageing, through its association with transfers of land between generations, can have a wide-ranging impact on the agricultural sector in general, and on food production and food security in particular.
Intergenerational transfers include land, other goods, wealth, entitlements and assets which can be assigned to or inherited by members of a different generation, such as one's children. Intergenerational transfers are usually thought of as individual transactions whereby an individual bequeaths or gives something of value to an individual in a succeeding generation. This is an ongoing practice in every society. However, intergeneration transfers have also their societal dimension because it is primarily the society which defines the life cycle stage at which a person is deemed responsible for control and ownership of goods. This societal or structural aspect of intergenerational transfers may change in the course of time. For instance, in present-day developed countries the elderly have been largely displaced by the middle-aged as the legitimate group in control of society and its resources.
For purposes of our discussion, it is useful to distinguish land and land-associated transfers from all other types, i.e. non-land transfers. The two categories will be treated separately in the paragraphs that follow.
This category of intergenerational transfers is the main topic of this paper. Land transfers can be seen from a number of perspectives. Here we identify six important aspects of these transfers, highlighting the differences between developed and developing countries.
3.1.1 Institutionalization mechanisms
The social mechanisms for institutionalizing intergenerational transfers of land may be determined by custom or by formal institutions. Developed societies tend to understand transfers as institutionalized through law, cadastre, wills, deeds, titles and contracts. These are typically maintained and administered by professionals whose entitlement derives from their mastery of specialized knowledge. In developing countries, intergenerational transfers are usually matters of collective agreement and understanding, and are administered primarily by elders whose prerogatives are based on tradition, rooted in kinship relations.
3.1.2 Property involved
The particular property involved may be land or objects related to land such as trees and water. Arboreal resources may consist of firewood, lumber, leaf casts, fruit, nuts and other naturally occurring products, but they may include also hunting rights. Water resources, too, may take several forms, including rights for irrigation use, harvesting rights for aquatic species, production rights for the development of aquaculture, and even rights for water transport. Thus, the term property may mean either an object itself or also the rights and responsibilities concerning that object.
3.1.3 People involved
The expression 'people involved' refers to the actual participants gaining entitlements through intergenerational transfers. Virtually any member of a community may be involved as the recipient of a land transfer. Thus, even subordinate members - e.g. women, the young, and the incapacitated - may receive land through intergenerational transfers. The recipient is usually a specific person, but under certain circumstances land can also be transferred to a corporate entity, such as a family, a clan, or a corporation.
3.1.4 Duration of arrangement
Not all intergenerational transfers of land are designed as permanent arrangements. For example, some may be limited to the donor's lifetime; some may not be inheritable or renewable; some may be bounded but recurring (e.g. seasonal access to land during vegetation period). In some instances, the transfer may consist of rights to a specific parcel of land, which may be particularly important when considering access to communally held or pooled resources (e.g., where a specific plot of land is assigned for an individual's use from the pool of collectively held land).
3.1.5 Nature of entitlement
It is sometimes assumed that a transfer of land automatically includes passing on of ownership as well as access to and control of that land. Yet ownership, access, and control represent three distinct forms of relationship to land. Control denotes the right to make managerial decisions regarding the land, often together with the right to exclude. Access is most closely related to the concept of use rights, or usufruct rights in the case of pooled resources in communal holding. Ownership means the right to alienation with regard to the resource, i.e. the right to sell it.
Ownership, control and access may not necessarily go hand in hand. Consider, for example, the implications of zoning and leasing. Zoning restricts the types of uses to which a piece of land can be put by its owner. Thus, zoning separates ownership of the land from some aspects of control of the land, without affecting an owner's access to the land since the owner is still free to use it in some ways. Leasing typically separates ownership of land from either control of, or access to land, or both. By granting a tenant occupancy and use rights, an owner typically surrenders access without necessarily surrendering control. On the other hand, land may be leased for a given use only, yet allow for the transfer of that use right to a third party (for example, an individual may lease land from its owner exclusively for hunting yet allow others to also hunt on the land).
In traditional societies, land is mostly owned and controlled by the elderly, typically men, who retain rights of access, but who may also grant access rights to others. So long as the aged hold such rights the elderly tend to be highly valued. Indeed, ownership and control by the elderly over such tangible long-term resources is a significant basis of their overall power in the family and the community.
3.1.6 Specification of use
Intergenerational transfers of land are always tied to use. Land and related resources can be put to a variety of specific uses. A partial list of such uses includes: agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry, residential construction, commercial use, firewood and lumber production, fruit and nut production, hunting, fishing, irrigation, aquaculture, recreation, habitat, and waste disposal. Some of these uses are mutually exclusive while others can be combined. Some uses affect large numbers of people (e.g. agriculture) and others affect relatively small numbers of people (e.g. aquaculture). Many uses are relevant to only some segments of the population (e.g. firewood gathering is usually the purview of women, and hunting usually of men).
In addition to land there exist several additional categories of 'goods' that can be transferred between generations:
Intergenerational transfers of non-land resources are important for a number of reasons. First, transfers of non-land can, and often do, accompany transfers of land. This may directly affect the recipient's ability to make efficient use of land. Money, access to information, or the acquisition of a recognized status in a community can all provide capital, either directly or through their role as collateral. Such capital, in turn, might allow for modernization and expansion (e.g., leasing additional lands to take advantage of economies of scale, purchasing new equipment or breeding stock) or innovation in either production or selling. Second, non-land resources represent assets which can be transferred separately from the land itself. Third, in developing countries non-land resources are typically under the jurisdiction of the elderly. The elderly may therefore use them as a mechanism for retaining significant control over the young even if the land has been formally transferred. Thus, non-land resources represent additional means by which the elderly may continue to influence the affairs of daily life.
With respect to the above discussion, what are the mechanisms through which intergenerational transfers can be affected by population ageing? In this section, we single out several key dimensions of intergenerational transfers that the process of population ageing may change.
We may think about the timing of a transfer in terms of either the age of the participants or the family life cycle stages of the participants. Each of these time dimensions is relevant to both the donor and the recipient, and both could change as a result of population ageing.
With respect to age, the outcomes are rather simple to imagine: as the age of the donor goes up, the same can generally be expected for the recipient. However, increases in overall life expectancy may mean that some assets will be transferred from the oldest to the youngest adult generation, for instance from grandparents to grandchildren, thus 'leaping over' the parental generation. Should such transfers become more frequent due to population ageing, the result could be a decline in the average age of recipient.
With respect to family life cycle stage, the issue is even more complicated. From the perspective of the donor we are considering the elderly, typically with adult children. In developing countries, at least some of the children are likely to be living with their elderly parents. In developed countries, the aged are more likely to be in the 'empty nest' stage. From the perspective of the recipient and their conjugal family, a wide variety of family life cycle stages must be considered. The recipients may be unmarried and childless; married and childless; or married with children at any of a variety of life cycle stages. The recipients may even be living with their own grandchildren or in the 'empty nest' stage themselves.
The recipients' life cycle situation could be important in relation to agricultural production. For instance, it can be hypothesized that persons at moderately advanced life cycle stages will generally be in a better position to receive land and use it for agricultural purposes than those who are in more advanced stages and therefore not necessarily able/willing to adjust their long-term plans to new circumstances. Furthermore, people in very early and very late stages of life have usually less resources available to make investments in agricultural production; are less likely to obtain credit; may be less willing to experiment with innovative production and marketing practices, etc.
In all cases, it is relevant to ask: How does population ageing influence the ages of donors and recipients participating in intergenerational transfers? Do the family life stages of persons involved in intergenerational transfers change with population ageing? Is the recipients' life cycle situation important in relation to agricultural production?
It is typical in developed societies to think of intergenerational transfers as occurring at a specific point in time. For example, the transfer of property upon the signing of a title or deed or upon the reading of a will takes place on a specific date.
However, many transfers take place over a period of time, such as transfers of bride wealth or bride price (Hakansson, 1988; Dahall et al., 1996). Similarly, the transfer of a farm may take place over many cropping cycles or years, and control over the property may be transferred in a progressive fashion with the assignment of full ownership occurring only after some time has passed. Certainly, as members of an ageing population on average live longer, there is increased potential for extending the duration of transfers. From the point of view of control over the land and economic independence, such an increase is usually negative for the recipient. However, under certain circumstances a prolongation of the transfer may have positive effects, for example on financing or investment; therefore it may be beneficial to the recipient and, consequently, contribute to a growth in the agricultural production (Phimister et al., 1994).
Some possible questions are: Does population ageing alter the duration of intergenerational transfers? If it does, what are the implications for the donors and the recipients? Would these have an impact on agricultural production?
In the previous sections we discussed various forms of transfers. Population ageing might also affect the particular mix of forms that are transferred. We already noted that a farmer might transfer his/her farm to a child in a stepwise manner. It is also possible that the donor might only transfer control without transferring ownership, or vice versa. Thus, transfers can involve a wide variety of 'mixes' in terms of ownership, control and access, as well as in terms of land and non-land resources.
We might well ask what could the elderly gain from such protracted transfers. Elders usually have at their disposal a number of prerogatives, such as the timing of retirement, disposition of the land, control over resource management and planning, etc. Salamon and Lockhart (1980) conceptualize the use of these prerogatives as a 'game' in which the elderly gradually deal out resources to create intergenerational exchanges while keeping back enough to assure that the process will continue and that the quality of life in their own ageing period will not suffer. In other words, the elderly may be seen as purposefully using their prerogatives and intentionally manipulating the exchange relationship with their offspring. Population ageing could have the effect that the elderly will be inclined to use their prerogatives in a more restrictive manner in order to maintain positive relations with the extended family and remain well integrated into it.
Population ageing can also affect the mix of financial and non-financial assets to be transferred. For example, non-financial assets, especially land, are increasingly desirable in developing countries due to the absence of well-developed financial markets and the existence of inflation and similar risks (Rosenzweig and Wolpin, 1985). One result of population ageing, especially when it is accompanied by mortality improvements, could be that people have more time to generate savings and therefore are capable of transferring more financial assets to their offspring. Under certain circumstances (e.g. low inflation), transfers consisting of both land and financial assets can be more beneficial from the recipient's point of view as they make it easier to invest, hire workers, expand agricultural production etc.
The mix of assets transferred may also vary along gender lines. Evidence from a number of developing countries indicates that parents usually give land to sons but favour daughters with non-land assets. It seems quite possible that population ageing alters parents' preferences towards their sons and daughters, and that this affects the gender dimension of intergenerational transfers as well. For example, a very old parent is likely to be more dependent on familial care and consequently may wish to transfer a higher share of his/her assets to the care-provider. Because daughters can be expected to provide on average more such care than sons, the practice of transferring property to daughters may increase with population ageing.
The questions deserving attention are: Does population ageing influence the composition of assets that are being transferred between generations? Do the exchange relationships between donors and recipients change in response to population ageing? Does population ageing affect the gender aspect of intergenerational transfers? What is the impact of these changes on agricultural production?
In important ways this component overlaps with the previous two. In the sense of the duration of the transfer, completeness refers to the fact that the duration may persist until the death of the older family member. At such time the transfer then becomes complete through inheritance. In the sense of the mix of assets transferred, it may not be until the death of the parent that ownership is transferred, even though control and access may have been transferred completely at a much earlier date.
Some transfers are made which hold only during the lifetime of the donor. For example, certain rights of access to a resource may be granted to the next generation, but following the death of the resource owner/parent the rights may revert to broader communal ownership and control by other elderly. Thus, the transfer is not guaranteed over the lifetime of the recipient. In this fashion the transfer can be said to be incomplete.
One important aspect of incomplete transfers is that they can have significant implications for agricultural production. For instance, in a situation when the ownership rights are not fully transferred, the recipient of the transfer might not feel sufficiently motivated to make investments or intensify production. Moreover, incomplete transfers could increase the likelihood that the recipient will sub-lease the land to a third party. However, sub-tenants usually lack both the interest and the capacity to make investments. The key seems to be whether adequate conditions exist in a particular setting to provide secure access to the land for a sufficiently long time so as to recoup investment costs.
Given these considerations, we may ask: Does the completeness of intergenerational transfers change as a result of population ageing? If it does, what are the implications for the persons involved and for agricultural production?
One of the effects of population ageing is the potential for increasing the number of generations alive in a family. We may refer to this as increasing the density of generations present. Thus, population ageing creates a situation in which there are more generations present in the household/family to participate in the transfer in a variety of capacities. This could mean that more generations participate directly or that a different mix of generations is involved in intergenerational transfers as population ages. On the other hand, population ageing is frequently associated with fertility decline along a pattern that includes rising average age of mothers at birth, hence diminishing to some extent prospects for coexistence of more generations.
The questions deserving attention are: Does population ageing induce changes in the mix of generations involved in intergenerational transfers? Do the roles various generations play in such transfers change with population ageing?
As elders live longer, some may find that decisions must be made for them for a variety of health reasons. Alternatively, because of increased generational density, some families may increase the range of participants involved in the decision making process. For instance, elders may request the assistance of their elder sons and/or daughters in transfer decisions. In some instances, an elder may even delegate the decision about a transfer to somebody who does not belong to his/her closest family - a distant relative, a friend, a neighbour, a local representative or a community institution. One possible outcome of such a constellation may be that the land is transferred in an economically more rational manner than if the decision about the transfer rested solely with the elderly owner.
This raises the questions: Can it be said that population ageing affects the number and characteristics of persons involved in transfer decisions? If yes, what are the consequences?
Generally, intergenerational transfer is assumed to be from parent to child. As the population ages and the density of generations present increases, additional transfers are possible to grandchildren and even great grandchildren, thereby 'leapfrogging' a generation or two. Consider for instance an elder farmer in his seventies or eighties who has children in their late fifties and sixties and grandchildren in their thirties. Such a situation allows for intergenerational transfers to move directly from the elder to the adult grandchildren, thus bypassing the parent generation. Apart from their purely demographic dimension, transfers that skip one generation could have important repercussions for the agricultural sector. For instance, they could help to speed up the process of agricultural modernization, reduce the tax-related costs of transfer and thus improve the recipients' capability to invest, etc.
Population ageing may also increase the possibility for transfers to move in other directions than exclusively down. Why might this be so? We have already established that population ageing means that more people will be living to older ages. But population ageing can also be associated with changes in the levels of mortality by causes of death. For instance, it is not unreasonable to assume that mortality due to cardiovascular diseases, cancer and AIDS will be increasing with population ageing. These diseases can greatly affect mortality levels of persons in their middle ages. So, while more people will be living longer, more of them will experience the loss of siblings, children or grandchildren. Thus, there is the increased potential for inheritance to move 'up' (from a member of a younger generation to a member of an older generation) or 'laterally' (between members of the same generation). With fertility decline, such transfers are especially likely when the deceased is childless or has very young children.
The relevant questions are: Does population ageing lead to some generations being bypassed by intergenerational transfers? If yes, what implications does this have for agricultural production? Do other transfers than those from parents to children become more prevalent as the population ages?
Because population ageing implies an increase in the proportion - and perhaps number - of elderly in the population, it may affect the value of certain goods in the society. On the one hand, more elderly can mean that a given good is held by more individuals and therefore is in some sense less scarce. This tends to be true of the prestige accorded to the elderly status itself. As Simmons (1945, 1960) argues, the status of the elderly is inversely proportional to their numbers in society. This is also true of the production-related knowledge which the elderly are likely to posses. On the other hand, more elderly can mean that a fixed amount of resources is held by a smaller proportion of all elderly. Here the value of the good or resource might increase because it is in relatively short supply. No longer is there a demand solely from the young but also from the elderly not currently in possession of the good.
In instances where there is no successor to inherit the land - whether due to childless status or to non-interest by absentee children - there may be implications even for the real value of the goods to be transferred. For example, in a study of elderly farmers in Great Britain, Potter and Lobley (1992) found that elderly farmers without successors lacked the incentive and motivation to continue expanding the business and accumulating capital into old age. There was a resulting drop in the value of the goods involved relative to what otherwise would have been the case.
Obviously, changes induced by population ageing in the relative value of land can have a substantial impact on agricultural production. If land is becoming a scarce resource, then members of younger generations may be more inclined to participate in land transfers and take up agricultural activities. On the other hand, a decline in the value of land may mean that younger family members will have less incentive to be involved in agriculture. This can lead to a rapid ageing of the agricultural labour force, a conversion to less labour intensive forms of land use, increased inefficiency of agricultural production and, ultimately, land abandonment and growing vulnerability to food insecurity. But the outcome of declining value of land could also be that there would be more farmland available for lease or sale, thus providing an opportunity to form larger holdings and intensify agricultural production. Exactly what implications will population ageing have for the value of land and the agricultural sector will very much depend on the socio-economic context.
The questions to be asked are: Does the value of land held by the elderly change with population ageing? If yes, how does it change and with what implications?
This is perhaps the most dynamic component of our discussion, and certainly the one most dramatically influenced by rural-urban migration. In most customary societies there has been a great deal of continuity of life across generations. While there has always been adaptation, the general features of life have changed rather slowly. Thus, children's lives were much like those of their parents. Mead (1970) calls these types of societies 'prefigurative' since the life of the parent prefigures that of the child.
In modernizing environments where urbanization and rural-urban migration are significant, the young often find their lives to be substantially different from those of their parents. In such cases the relevance to the young of the goods and resources held by the elderly may diminish. For example, the relevance of rural farmland often differs markedly between urban wage earners and their rural agrarian parents. Similar differences may occur also for other resources. Kuhnen (1995) gives an example of such changes in relevance. He describes the shift in the demand of the young in Asia from access to land to one of access to income. The limited access to land by the young encourages them to participate in various non-agricultural economic activities. Thus, to the degree that population ageing inhibits the transfer of land to the young, the relevance of land to the young may be diminished and replaced by a desire for employment in the non-agricultural sector.
The point of importance here is that the change in relative valuation of goods held by the elderly may be specific to members within the family rather than reflect a wholesale market devaluation of these goods as discussed in the preceding section. And, population ageing, particularly when it is tied to rural outmigration, can have a substantial impact by increasing the valuation differences between generations within the family.
We propose the following research questions: Does population ageing per se influence the relevance of land transfers to the members of younger generations? If it does, how significant are the outcomes?
So far, our discussion has focused on societies in which individual ownership of land is the predominant form of land tenure. However, it is important to bear in mind that in many regions of developing countries, rural societies are organized on the principle of communal use of resources. This is the case, for instance, in a large part of sub-Saharan Africa, where the use of communal land is allocated to individuals by the chief of the land, and under his supervision, for a number of crops. In such contexts, recipients have no property rights to the land they have received for making a living. The management and decisional authority lies entirely in the hands of the elderly: the land chief and his elder fellows, based on the principle of seniority. Furthermore, in these rural settings transfers of land property do not take place because the very concept of property lacks significance. This is because the property of the various resources rests with the forefathers of the present beneficiaries, who may collectively take advantage of the resources but are not entitled to dispose or transfer property rights.
It is unlikely that the effect of population ageing on societies that regard land as a communal asset will be neutral. One possible outcome might be that increases in the numbers of persons surviving to old ages would in effect lead to a social devaluation of the elderly. This could mean that the social status of old persons would decline and that the traditional pattern of land management, in which a few respected elderly make all important decisions, would lose its demographic rationale. Under such a scenario, the end result might be a fundamental shift away from the resource-management practices dominated by the elderly.
Therefore, we ask: What are the effects of population ageing in societies organized on the principle of communal use of land? Does population ageing have an impact on the role the elderly play in controlling the use of land in such societies? What are the implications for agricultural production?
As indicated at the beginning, assumptions articulated in this paper are not based on empirical evidence. Clearly, such evidence is urgently needed to assess the validity of our hypotheses. It is also clear that the ways in which rural population ageing can shape intergenerational transfers of land - and so, in turn, agricultural production - may vary according to geographical region, locality, producer-type, existing demographic characteristics and long-term strategies of households, prevailing socio-cultural attitudes, broader socio-political conditions, etc. As a result, one cannot ascribe a given change in intergenerational transfers to population ageing without examining the array of relevant local and supra-local factors. Nonetheless, we hope that the ideas of this paper will at least help to identify promising areas for analysis and provide inspiration for future work aimed at distinguishing significant linkages between rural population ageing and agricultural production.
The final point to be made is that studying the impacts of rural population ageing on transfers of land and the agricultural sector at large is not only intellectually appealing, but also potentially highly relevant to the policy-making sphere. The need to conceptualize the elderly as a necessary element in exchange networks is commonly overlooked and omitted from policy considerations, yet it holds the most promise for developing creative new strategies to assure food security and social stability. The apparent intensity and durability of intergenerational exchange relationships suggest that national governments need to foster them, rather than ignore or erode them, and to support civil society institutions which do the same. Insights derived from the experience of population ageing in various rural settings can suggest the kind of policy interventions that will help to bring about a socially desired path of rural development in the future. For instance, if the importance of population ageing for intergenerational transfers of land is confirmed, then establishing constructive, collaborative policies towards the elderly could be crucial for the outcomes of such transfers to be favourable to the agricultural sector.
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