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Policy Brief Proposal – Poverty Among the Elderly in Costa Rica

  1. Introduction

Costa Rica is well known for their national parks, rain forests, beaches, and rich cultural heritage, But life is not an all-inclusive vacation for its elderly population, Senior citizens over 65 living in Costa Rica make up the highest percentage (31%) of the poor (“Costa Rica Demographics Profile 2018),

A large percentage of Costa Rica’s elderly population live in poverty due in part to government strife, economic crises, and a broken healthcare and education system, The elderly are more susceptible to fall into poverty than any other demographics, and with the number of senior citizens in Costa Rica set to rise by 11,5% by 2020 change is vital,

  1. Background

In 1948, the Costa Rican Civil War had just ended, and Costa Rica had gained their independence from a tyrannical leader, Teodoro Picado (Camacho, 2005), From there, Costa Rica’s government and economy went through many changes that aided in the creation social infrastructure (Camacho, 2005),


2,1 Economic Disparities

From 1980-1982, rising oil prices forced Costa Rica into an economic crisis, Costa Rica’s population that was living below the poverty line went up by 20%, and wages fell by 40% (Hidalgo, 2014), This was due to, “larger debt and to higher international interest rates, inability to borrow to meet payments, rising import prices, falling export prices, and the world recession in the United States and Europe, which reduced the demand for traditional Costa Rican exports,” (Fields, 1988)

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Many senior citizens are still struggling with the side effects of a crisis that happened more than 20 years ago, For this reason, 18% of all senior citizen households under the poverty line are due to this past financial disaster (Camacho, 2005),

2,2 Education

After the revolution of 1948, education became a main priority of the Costa Rican government, In many ways, it was education that set Costa Rica apart from other Central American countries, By 1970 Costa Rica’s literacy rate held steady at 90%, compared to other Central American countries such as El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, which only had a literacy rate of 60% (Ivie, 2004), This rise in education is seen in Figure 1, But, not all Costa Ricans benefited from this education boom, in fact, those who finished their education prior to 1970 were at a loss, Many Costa Ricans were left with little to no education, which limited them to low skill level jobs, This menial labor was low paid and had little to no benefits, making it nearly impossible to escape poverty, Low literacy rates were common among rural communities, Many children did not finish secondary education, opting to stay at home to work on the farm with their families (Ivie, 2004),

Figure 1 source: World Data Bank, 2018


2,3 The Health Care System

Much like other developed, and developing countries, health care is a hot topic in Costa Rica,  Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, A United Nations Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, visited Costa Rica in order to gauge the issues facing the elderly in the nation, In a speech, she stated that, “older persons have much to contribute to the development of the country and should be seen as such… In a complementary way, it is also urgent to develop national and local awareness campaigns about the laws, policies and programs on ageing in order to inform older persons about their rights and combat stereotypes and age discrimination” (Lopez, 2016) According to Kornfeld-Matte, there is an “abundance of, long waiting lists, insufficient emergency services and support for informal caregivers,” (Lopez, 2016)

  1. Strategies

The Costa Rican government offers two federally funded programs in order to aid against and combat poverty among the elderly (The RNC and Redes de Cuido), The World Health Organization also sends volunteers to aid in the care of the elderly,

3,1 Strategy #1: The World Health Organization
The World Health Organization has brought volunteers to Costa Rica to take care and aid the elderly living in extreme poverty (WHO, 2017), Established in 2016, this service uses home health care practices, with each trained volunteer caring for around 15 people in surrounding communities, Volunteers are trained in 3-day work shops, with a focus on, “geriatric health, integrated community care and identifying vulnerable older people,” (WHO, 2017), This program provides the elderly with nutritional care, personal hygiene, taking medication, getting free medication, exercise, and companionship, The total cost of this program has been 14 million dollars, and is funded by, “new, earmarked tax on the consumption of alcohol and tobacco, as well as a separate family allowance contribution, which includes a levy of 5% on the wages and salaries of public- and private-sector workers,” (WHO, 2017)


In 2016, 50 community networks were established across Costa Rica, operating in health districts serving around 10, 000 people aged 65 years and older, This program has “led to a rise in the numbers of older people making use of different long-term care services, particularly those related to nutrition and companionship,” (WHO, 2017), According to The World Health Organization, the main goal of this program is to improve to quality of life of clients and to provide other long-term care services,

3,2 Strategy #2: The NonContributary Regime

This strategy is a type of insurance referred to as, the Non-Contributory Regime (Régimen  No  Contributivo), or RNC, Created in 1975, this governmental program provides free health care to the aging, along with other governmental resources, The RNC is a system, “under which the elderly in poverty,  their  dependents,  and  the  disabled  have  the  right  to  health services from the Costa Rican Social Security Fund… and from the 5% contribution  by  employers  on  wages  paid,  as   well   as   benefits   generated   by   the   Electronic   Lottery (Camacho, 2005,)

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While the RNC provides a program to care for the poor and offer them medical assistance, it’s conducted through health insurance, There are many uninsured peoples in Costa Rica, and a study has shown that individuals with less education  had  a lower  probability  of  being  insured  in  the  past, resulting in them not receiving  an  RNC  pension,

3,3 Strategy #3: Red de Cuido

Redes de Cuido de la Persona Adulta Mayor, or Care Networks of the Elderly, is a program is a ‘social structure’ that is comprised of, “individuals, families, organized groups of the community, non-governmental and state institutions, articulated by actions, interests and programs, in pursuit of guarantee a comprehensive response,” (“Red de Cuido para Adalots Mayores”, 2017),  Created in the presidential administration of Laura Chinchilla (2010-2014), they focus on providing care to the elderly though existing programs and creating new care alternatives such as community housing for the elderly, day centers, and long-stay homes, (“Red de Cuido para Adalots Mayores”, 2017),

According to the website, there are many services offered, One of these services is the “Stays and Social Aid Program,” which “promotion actions, attention, development and integral welfare of the beneficiary population,”( “Programas Proyectors, 2018),  and is covered by the RNC,

  1. My Recommendation


In order to facilitate change, the Costa Rican governments needs to create more programs that reach out to the elderly and provide them with services they need,

I believe that this can easily be paid for by taxing the rich, In Costa Rica, only income earned in Costa Rica is subject to taxation, According to the Costa Rica Star, this means that “an investor who lives in Costa Rica but makes money abroad can repatriate his or her income without having to pay taxes” (Lopez, 2014), If the government cracked down on tax evaders and used the money to benefit the elderly, there would be little to no need for non-governmental funded programs,

It’s more than evident that Costa Rica has a booming tourism industry, In 2017, tourism represented 5,8% of the country’s GDP, and brought in more than $3,4 billion dollars in to the economy, Ageism is a rampant problem in the job industry across the world, The elderly actively seeking work are struggling due to misconceptions of senior citizens as weak, greedy, and lazy, Employing the elderly to work in areas with high tourism rates would not only give jobs to those who need them, but also supply them with health care benefits, and would contribute to the booming tourism industry which helps to grow and stimulate the economy, (Alavarado, 2017),

  1. Conclusion


Education, poverty, war, inflation, and a poor healthcare and education system have created a harsh reality for the elderly of Costa Rica, While ranked as the #1 place to retire according to Forbes Magazine, the citizens of retirement age in Costa Rica would probably disagree, The elderly of Costa Rica are in dire need of health care services and programs to aid in the natural process of aging, As the population of those over 65 increases, the government needs to respond quickly and efficiently, If the Costa Rican government strives to improve programs created for their aging population, then perhaps maybe Costa Rica may finally become a perfect retirement destination,  Refrescos anyone?


  • Alvarado, L, (2017, June 16), Tourism Represents 5,8% of GDP in Costa Rica, Retrieved from https://news,co,cr/tourism-represents-large-gdp-costa-rica/62237/
  • Camacho, Brenes, and Gilbert, “Left Behind in the Economic Crisis: Poverty Among the Elderly in Costa Rica (Translation of Spanish Version),” EScholarship, University of California, 8 Mar, 2005, escholarship,org/uc/item/93p5q65p,
  • “Costa Rica Demographics Profile 2018,” Zambia GDP  per Capita (PPP)  Economy, 20 Jan, 2018, www,indexmundi,com/costa_rica/demographics_profile,html,
  • Eisenberg, R, (2018, January 03), Best Places To Retire Abroad In 2018: What 2 Rankings Say, Retrieved from https://www,forbes,com/sites/nextavenue/2018/01/03/best-places-to-retire-abroad-in-2018-what-2-rankings-say/#6d70b3c22f96
  • Fields, G, (1988), Employment and Economic Growth in Costa Rica, Retrieved from https://digitalcommons,ilr,cornell,edu/cgi/viewcontent,cgi?referer=https://www,google,com/&httpsredir=1&article=2141&context=articles
  • Fiske, Susan T, and Amy J Cuddy, A Model of (Often Mixed) Stereotype Content: Competence ,,,cos,gatech,edu/facultyres/Diversity_Studies/Fiske_StereotypeContent,pdf,
  • Henfling, Ivo, “Senior Citizen Discount Program in Costa Rica,” Costa Rica Real Estate MLS, 31 Dec, 2017, www,american-european,net/costa-rica-real-estate-blog/costa-rica-retirement/senior-citizen-discount-program-in-costa-rica/,
  • Hidalgo, J, C, (2014, January 23), Growth without Poverty Reduction: The Case of Costa Rica, Retrieved from https://www,cato,org/publications/economic-development-bulletin/growth-without-poverty-reduction-case-costa-rica
  • Ivie, E, (n,d,), Retrieved May 17, 2004, from http://jrscience,wcp,muohio,edu/fieldcourses04/PapersCostaRicaArticles/EducationinCostaRica,html
  • Karel, M, J,, Gatz, M,, & Smyer, M, A, (2011), Aging and mental health in the decade ahead: What psychologists need to know, American Psychologist, Advance online publication, doi: 10,1037/ a0025393
  • Lopez, J, (2014, January 01), Is Costa Rica an Effective Tax Shelter? Retrieved from https://news,co,cr/is-costa-rica-an-effective-tax-shelter/31131/
  • Lopez, J, (2016, May 20), UN Expert Concerned About Elderly Population of Costa Rica, Retrieved from https://news,co,cr/un-expert-concerned-elderly-population-costa-rica/47455/
  • Lopez, Jaime, “UN Expert Concerned About Elderly Population of Costa Rica,” Costa Rica Star News, 20 May 2016, news,co,cr/un-expert-concerned-elderly-population-costa-rica/47455/,
  • Marchant, Jo, “Poorest Costa Ricans Live Longest,” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 03 September 2013, www,nature,com/news/poorest-costa-ricans-live-longest-1,13663,
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