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Pensions at a glance: public policies across OECD countries

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  • Queisser, Monika
  • Whitehouse, Edward

Abstract

Reforming pensions is one of the biggest challenges of the century. All OECD countries have to adjust to the ageing of their populations and re-balance retirement income provision to keep it adequate and ensure that the retirement income system is financially sustainable. Demographers have been warning us for some time that ageing is looming and that when it strikes populations and workforces will rapidly age. But many governments preferred to ignore the call for reform and cling to the hope of postponing solutions beyond the next election or claiming that rather painless remedies could be found. Immigration of younger workers, more women in work and higher productivity were put forward in the hope that more painful solutions could be avoided. All of these factors can certainly help to cope with ageing and especially with the financing of pensions but the increases necessary to compensate for ageing are so large that one cannot rely on them alone. Most OECD countries have realised this and have undertaken numerous reforms during past years. But pension reform is a difficult task. It involves long-term policy decisions under uncertain conditions and often the likely impact of these decisions on the well-being of pensioners is not spelt out clearly. More than most other areas, pension reform is a highly sensitive topic. Not only does it lead to heated ideological debates, but it makes people protest in the streets, and even forces governments to retreat from needed reforms. As people working on pension reforms around the world, we at the OECD Secretariat are asked time and again for the “right” solution to the problem. Which country does it the best way, which country is doing the worst job, which systems are the most generous, will it be possible to reform without increasing pensioner poverty, and will countries be able to pay for the promises they are making? There are no simple answers to these questions. National retirement-income systems are complex and pension benefits depend on a wide range of factors. Differences in retirement ages, benefit calculation methods and adjustment of paid-out pensions make it very difficult to compare pension policies across countries. Another problem is that life expectancies at retirement differ from one country to another, which means that some countries will have to pay pensions for a much longer period of retirement than others. As a result national debates are often full of misleading claims regarding the generosity and affordability of other countries’ pension arrangements. International comparisons to date have focussed mostly on the fiscal aspects of the ageing problem. But much less attention has been paid to the social sustainability of pension systems and the impact of reforms on the adequacy and distribution of pensioner incomes. But these aspects are also crucial if countries want to attain the dual objective of promising affordable pensions and preventing a resurgence of pensioner poverty. This report presents the first direct comparison of pension promises across OECD countries. It provides a novel framework to assess the future impact of today’s pension policies, including their economic and social objectives. It takes account of the detailed rules of pension systems but summarises them in measures that are easy to compare. Pension benefits are projected for workers at different levels of earnings, covering all mandatory sources of retirement income for private-sector workers, including minimum pensions, basic and means-tested schemes, earnings-related programmes and defined contribution schemes. Another novelty is the inclusion of the large effects of the personal income tax and social security contributions on living standards in work and in retirement: all indicators are presented gross and net of taxes and contributions. The framework can be used in different ways. As it is flexible to changing assumptions, the impact of policy reforms and economic developments on pension entitlements can be simulated. It can provide answers to questions such as what would happen if a country switched from wage to price indexation of pensions, or changed the benefit accrual rate. It can also inform on the impact of changes in economic growth, interest rates, wage growth or inflation on pensions of future retirees. The OECD will use the framework to monitor pension reforms in member countries by updating this report regularly. This report is the first in a biennial series which will be produced in co-operation with the European Commission. Public opinion on pensions is changing. People are realising that a shrinking number of young workers will have trouble paying for more and more pensioners. Time has come to open a frank debate among all members of society and address the question of how the cost of ageing should be distributed in each society. Our publication aims to contribute to this debate by shedding more light on the social and economic implications of pension reform.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 10907.

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Date of creation: May 2005
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Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:10907

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Keywords: pensions; retirement; ageing;

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References

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  1. Olivia S. Mitchell, . "New Trends in Pension Benefit and Retirement Provisions," Pension Research Council Working Papers 2000-1, Wharton School Pension Research Council, University of Pennsylvania.
  2. Edward Whitehouse, 2007. "Pensions Panorama : Retirement-Income Systems in 53 Countries," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 7177, October.
  3. R. Mehra & E. Prescott, 2010. "The equity premium: a puzzle," Levine's Working Paper Archive 1401, David K. Levine.
  4. Gordon Keenay & Edward R. Whitehouse, 2003. "Financial Resources and Retirement in Nine OECD Countries: The Role of The Tax System," OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 8, OECD Publishing.
  5. Richard Disney & Edward Whitehouse, 1994. "What are pension plan entitlements worth in Britain?," IFS Working Papers W94/01, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  6. John McHale, 1999. "The Risk of Social Security Benefit Rule Changes: Some International Evidence," NBER Working Papers 7031, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Whitehouse, Edward & Queisser, Monika, 2007. "Pensions at a glance: public policies across OECD countries," MPRA Paper 16349, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  8. George M. Constantinides & John B. Donaldson & Rajnish Mehra, 2002. "Junior Can'T Borrow: A New Perspective On The Equity Premium Puzzle," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 117(1), pages 269-296, February.
  9. Disney, Richard & Whitehouse, Edward, 1999. "Pension plans and retirement incentives," MPRA Paper 14755, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  10. Disney, Richard & Whitehouse, Edward, 2001. "Cross-country comparisons of pensioners’ incomes," MPRA Paper 16345, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  11. Thai-Thanh Dang & Pablo Antolín & Howard Oxley, 2001. "Fiscal Implications of Ageing: Projections of Age-Related Spending," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 305, OECD Publishing.
  12. Pablo Antolín & Stéphanie Payet & Edward R. Whitehouse & Juan Yermo, 2011. "The Role of Guarantees in Defined Contribution Pensions," OECD Working Papers on Finance, Insurance and Private Pensions 11, OECD Publishing.
  13. Disney, Richard & Whitehouse, Edward, 1992. "The personal pensions stampede," MPRA Paper 10476, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  14. Gordon Keenay & Edward Whitehouse, 2003. "The Role of the Personal Tax System in Old-Age Support: A Survey of 15 Countries," Fiscal Studies, Institute for Fiscal Studies, vol. 24(1), pages 1-21, March.
  15. Peter Whiteford, 1995. "The Use of Replacement Rates in International Comparisons of Benefit Systems," Discussion Papers 0054, University of New South Wales, Social Policy Research Centre.
  16. Monika Queisser & Edward R. Whitehouse, 2006. "Neutral or Fair?: Actuarial Concepts and Pension-System Design," OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 40, OECD Publishing.
  17. Palacios, Robert, 2002. "Managing public pension reserves Part II : lessons from five recent OECD initiatives," Social Protection Discussion Papers 33407, The World Bank.
  18. Bernard Casey & Howard Oxley & Edward R. Whitehouse & Pablo Antolín & Romain Duval & Willi Leibfritz, 2003. "Policies for an Ageing Society: Recent Measures and Areas for Further Reform," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 369, OECD Publishing.
  19. Edward R. Whitehouse, 2007. "Life-Expectancy Risk and Pensions: Who Bears the Burden?," OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 60, OECD Publishing.
  20. Ravi Jagannathan & Narayana R. Kocherlakota, 1996. "Why should older people invest less in stock than younger people?," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Sum, pages 11-23.
  21. Richard Disney & Edward Whitehouse, 1994. "Choice of private pension plan and pension benefits in the UK," IFS Working Papers W94/02, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  22. Peter Whiteford & Edward Whitehouse, 2006. "Pension Challenges and Pension Reforms in Oecd Countries," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 22(1), pages 78-94, Spring.
  23. Palacios, Robert & Whitehouse, Edward, 2006. "Civil-service pension schemes around the world," MPRA Paper 14796, University Library of Munich, Germany.
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