Préparer la Retraite: New Age-Inscriptions in West African Middle Classes


  • Erdmute Alber Chair of Social Anthropology University of Bayreuth D-95440 Bayreuth



retirement, aging, life course, Benin, middle classes


New ways of imagining, planning and living old age are actually emerging in the republic of Benin, West Africa. This process could be understood as the dissemination of an idea of retirement from the sector of formal labor and the corresponding social security system to a general notion of a good life in the late life course.  It is preceded by emerging age-inscriptions which are contouring the new up to a point that it is settled and becoming a norm or a dominant pattern. It is also linked to the emergence of new a African middle class. It is going hand in hand with the emergence of other changes in the imaginaries of the life- course, for instance new ways of living and imagining youth. Additionally, it goes along with an accelerating process of social differentiation, since living old age as retirement is, for the moment, only possible for people who are more or less doing well and able to gain the necessary resources of self-maintenance during a time after work.  Thus, retirement has become, beyond the sphere of formal work, a generalized notion of new pathways of old age. However, up to now, the desire to live old age as retirement is still an emerging age- inscription and has not become the dominant norm.


Actubenin 2015: Vote de la loi portant statut général de la Fonction publique:La retraite à 60 ans d’âge ou 30 ans de service. Accessed April 14, 2017

Alber, Erdmute. 2011. “Child trafficking in West Africa?” In Frontiers of globalization: Kinship and family structures in West Afrika, edited by Ana Marta Gonzales, Laurie de Rose and Florence Oloo, 71-92. Trenton: Africa World Press.

Alber, Erdmute. 2016. „Heterogenität als gelebte Praxis, Norm und Zukunftsgestaltung: Mittelschichtshaushalte in Benin.“ In Mittelklassen, Mittelschichten oder Milieus in Afrika? Gesellschaften im Wandel, edited by Antje Daniel, Sebastian Müller, Florian Stoll and Rainer Öhlschläger, 177-194. Baden Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft.

Ballo, Fidèle. 2017. Constructions sociales dans l’identification et l’appartenance à la classe moyenne chez les dendi et baatonu des communes d’Abomey-Calavi et de Cotonou. Memoire de DEA, Université d´Abomey-Calavi (UAC), Faculté des lettres, arts et Sciences humaines.

Boden, Gertrud. 2008. “‘The young people do what they want’: negotiating intergenerational relationships among the Khwe of Namibia.” In Generations in Africa, edited by Erdmute Alber, Sjaak van der Geest, Susan Reynolds Whyte., 113-136. Berlin, Hamburg, Münster: Lit Verlag.

Case, Anne and Alicia Mendendez. 2007. “Does money empower the elderly? Evidence from the Agincourt demographic surveillance site, South Africa.” Scandinavian Journal of Public Health 35: 157–164.

Coe, Cati. 2017. “Negotiating eldercare in Akuapem, Ghana: care-scripts and the role of non-kin.” Africa 87 (1): 137–54.

Cohen, Barney and Jane Menken. 2006. “Ageing in Sub-Saharan Africa. Recommendations for furthering research.” Washington (DC): The National Academic Press. Accessed 13.4.2017

Cooper, Elizabeth. 2012. “Sitting and standing: how families are fixing trust in uncertain times.” Africa 82 (3): 437–56.

Fry, Christine. 2000. “Culture, Age, and Subjective Well-Being: Health, Functionality, and the Infrastructure of Eldercare in Comparative Perspective.” Journal of Family Issues 21: 751-776.

Goode, William J. 1963. World Revolution and Family Patterns. New York: Free Press.

Haukanes, Haldis and Tatjana Thelen. 2010. “Parenthood and Childhood: Debates within the Social Sciences.” In Parenting after the Century of Childhood. Travelling Ideals, Institutional Negotiations and Individual Responses, edited by Haldis Haukanes and Tatjana Thelen, 11-33. Aldershot: Ashgate Publisher.

Heiman, Rachel, Carla Freeman and Mark Liechty (eds.). 2012. The Global Middle Classes. Theorizing Through Ethnography. Santa Fe: SAR Press.

Johnson, Christopher. 2015. Becoming bourgeois. Love, kinship and power in provincial France 1670-1880. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Kohli, Martin. 1985. „Institutionalisierung und Lebenslauf.“ Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie 37 (1): 1–29.

Kohli, Martin. 2009. „Die Institutionalisierung des Lebenslaufs. Historische Befunde und theoretische Argumente.“ In Soziale Ungleichheit. Klassische Texte zur Sozialstrukturanalyse, edited by Heike Solga, Justin Powell and Peter A. Berger, 387-400 Frankfurt, New York: Campus.

Mouton (1975) Social security in Africa. Trends, problems and prospects. Geneva: Internat. Labour Office.

Scharrer, Tabea, David O´Kane and Lena Kroeker. 2018. “Introduction: Africa’s Middle Classes in Critical Perspective.” In Middle Classes in Africa. Changing lives and conceptual changes, edited by Lena Kroeker, David O`Kane and Tabea Scharrer. New York: Palgrave Mcmillan: 1-31

Kroeker, Lena and Carola Lentz. 2015. “The Making of Middle Classes: Social Mobility and Boundary Work in Global Perspective.” Conference report. Published: 15. 1. 2015. Hsozkult. Accessed 13.4.2017.

Lentz, Carola. 2009. “Constructing ethnicity. elite biographies and funerals in Ghana.” In Ethnicity, belonging and biography. Ethnographical and biographical perspectives, edited by Arthur Bogner and Gabriele Rosenthal, 181-202. Berlin, Münster: Lit Verlag.

Lentz, Carola. 2016. “African middle classes: Lessons from transnational research and a research agenda.” In The Rise of Africa’s Middle Class, edited by Henning Melber, 17-53. London: Zed books.

Mathiason, John R. 2003. “An International Perspective on Aging and the End of Life.” Home Health Care Management Practice 15: 100.

Mberu, Blessing Uchenna et al. 2013. “Family Ties and Urban - Rural Linkages among Older Migrants in Nairobi Informal Settlements.” Population, Space and Place 19: 275–293.

Melber, Henning (ed.). 2016. The Rise of Africa's Middle Class. London: Zed Books.

Neubert, Dieter. 2014. “What is "Middle Class"? In Search for an Appropriate Concept.” Middle East – Topics & Arguments 2. Jg.: 23–35.

Nicolas, Andrea. 2009. “Like Fathers, Like Sons: The Boran-Gadaa Experience” In Times of our Lifes. Making sense of growing up, edited by Harry Blatterer and Julia Glahn, 323-334. Interdisciplinary Press. (Accessed


Republique du Bénin, presidence de la republique. 2005. Loi 86-014 du 26 septembre 1986, portant code des pensions civiles et militarires de retraite. Cotonou: Presses de Olimp.

Republique du Bénin, Assemblee nationale. 2015. Loi n° 2015-19 modifiant et complétant la loi n° 86-014 du 26 septembre 1986 portant code des pensions civiles et militaires de retraite. Cotonou.

Sabean, David. 1998. Kinship in Neckarhausen 1700-1870. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sabean, David and Simon Teuscher. 2007. “Kinship in Europe: A New Approach to Long-Term Development.” In Kinship in Europe. Approaches to Long-Term Development (1300-1900), edited by David Sabean, Simon Teuscher and Jon Matthieu,1-32. New York, Oxford: Berghahn Books.

Smith, Daniel Jordan. 2004. “Burials and Belonging in Nigeria. Rural-Urban Relations and Social Inequality in a Contemporary African Ritual.” American Anthropologist 106 (3): 569–579.

Solga, Heike, Peter A. Berger and Justin Powell (eds.). 2009. Soziale Ungleichheit: Klassische Texte zur Sozialstrukturanalyse. Frankfurt am Main: Campus.

Tanga, Pius, T. 2008. The Impact of Old Age Pension on Households and Social Relationships in Lesotho. Review of Southern African Studies Vol. 12, No. 1 & 2, p.184-215. statistics. 2017. Accessed 12 April 2017.

Van der Geest, Sjaak, Anke Mul and Hans Vermeulen. 2004. “Linkages between migration and the care of frail older people: observations from Greece, Ghana and The Netherlands.” Ageing & Society 24: 431–450.

World Bank 2017: Pension Matters.