Noelia Bernal, Javier Olivera, Marc Suhrcke (2024) – The effects of social pensions on nutrition-related health outcomes of the poor: Quasi-experimental evidence from Peru

This paper exploits the discontinuity around a welfare index of eligibility to assess the impact of Peru's social pension program Pension 65 on nutrition-related health outcomes among elderly poor individuals. Overall, we find evidence of how a relatively inexpensive program can produce improvements in anemia and nutrition-related mortality risk markers. The effects appear to be driven by plausible underlying mechanisms, including via improved nutritional quality as well as greater food expenditures and healthcare utilization. These positive effects are only modestly countered by tentative signs of an increased obesity risk among women in the short term (<2 years), but not beyond this term. As the program evolves further, policymakers need to confront the challenge of continuing to ensure the health benefits in terms of reducing nutritional deficits while avoiding potential undesirable side effects in terms of over-nutrition in Peru. The findings may serve to highlight the wider benefits of similar pension policies for the poor also in other middle income countries, well beyond the immediate economic welfare effects that the policies have primarily been designed for.