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On the optimal design of pension systems


  • Hans Fehr


  • Johannes Uhde


The present paper aims to quantify efficiency properties of flat and earnings-related pay-as-you-go financed social security systems of various institutional designs in order to identify an optimal pension design. Starting from a benchmark economy without social security, we introduce alternative pension systems and compare the costs arising from liquidity constraints as well as distortions of labor supply versus the benefits from insurance provision against income and lifespan uncertainty. Our findings suggest an optimal replacement rate of about 50 % of average earnings. In our model a single-tier earnings-related pension system yields the highest efficiency gains dominating flat benefits as well as two-tier systems of any form. We also show that the negative correlation between pension progressivity and pension generosity of real-world social security systems can be justified on efficiency grounds. Finally, our results indicate a positive impact of means-testing flat benefits against earnings-related benefits within multi-pillar pension systems. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Suggested Citation

  • Hans Fehr & Johannes Uhde, 2013. "On the optimal design of pension systems," Empirica, Springer;Austrian Institute for Economic Research;Austrian Economic Association, vol. 40(3), pages 457-482, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:empiri:v:40:y:2013:i:3:p:457-482 DOI: 10.1007/s10663-013-9214-2

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Helmuth Cremer & Jean-Marie Lozachmeur & Pierre Pestieau, 2008. "Social Desirability of Earnings Tests," German Economic Review, Verein für Socialpolitik, vol. 9, pages 114-134, May.
    2. Matsen, Egil & Thogersen, Oystein, 2004. "Designing social security - a portfolio choice approach," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 48(4), pages 883-904, August.
    3. Hans Fehr & Christian Habermann, 2008. "Risk Sharing and Efficiency Implications of Progressive Pension Arrangements," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 110(2), pages 419-443, June.
    4. András Simonovits, 2006. "Optimal Design of Pension Rule with Flexible Retirement: The Two-Type Case," Journal of Economics, Springer, vol. 89(3), pages 197-222, December.
    5. Marko Koethenbuerger & Panu Poutvaara & Paola Profeta, 2008. "Why are more redistributive social security systems smaller? A median voter approach," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 60(2), pages 275-292, April.
    6. Simonovits, Andr S, 2003. "Designing optimal linear rules for flexible retirement," Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, Cambridge University Press, vol. 2(03), pages 273-293, November.
    7. Hans Fehr & Manuel Kallweit & Fabian Kindermann, 2011. "Should Pensions be Progressive? Yes, at least in Germany!," CESifo Working Paper Series 3636, CESifo Group Munich.
    8. J. Ignacio Conde-Ruiz & Paola Profeta, 2007. "The Redistributive Design of Social Security Systems," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 117(520), pages 686-712, April.
    9. Pok-sang Lam & Stephen G. Cecchetti & Nelson C. Mark, 2000. "Asset Pricing with Distorted Beliefs: Are Equity Returns Too Good to Be True?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 787-805, September.
    10. Mark Huggett & Gustavo Ventura, 1999. "On the Distributional Effects of Social Security Reform," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 2(3), pages 498-531, July.
    11. Epstein, Larry G & Zin, Stanley E, 1991. "Substitution, Risk Aversion, and the Temporal Behavior of Consumption and Asset Returns: An Empirical Analysis," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(2), pages 263-286, April.
    12. Hans Fehr & Christian Habermann & Fabian Kindermann, 2008. "Social Security with Rational and Hyperbolic Consumers," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 11(4), pages 884-903, October.
    13. Kudrna, George & Woodland, Alan, 2011. "An inter-temporal general equilibrium analysis of the Australian age pension means test," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 33(1), pages 61-79, March.
    14. Ab O, G. & Mahieu, G. & Patxot, C., 2004. "On the optimality of PAYG pension systems in an endogenous fertility setting," Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, Cambridge University Press, vol. 3(01), pages 35-62, March.
    15. Hans Fehr, 2009. "Computable Stochastic Equilibrium Models and Their Use in Pension- and Ageing Research," De Economist, Springer, vol. 157(4), pages 359-416, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. R. Melis & A. Trudda, 2014. "Mixed pension systems sustainability," Working Paper CRENoS 201413, Centre for North South Economic Research, University of Cagliari and Sassari, Sardinia.
    2. Bielecki, Marcin & Goraus, Karolina & Hagemejer, Jan & Makarski, Krzysztof & Tyrowicz, Joanna, 2015. "Small assumptions (can) have a large bearing: evaluating pension system reforms with OLG models," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 48(C), pages 210-221.
    3. repec:eee:joecag:v:7:y:2016:i:c:p:17-29 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Fehr, Hans & Uhde, Johannes, 2014. "Means-testing and economic efficiency in pension design," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 44(S1), pages 57-67.
    5. George Kudrna, 2015. "Means Testing of Public Pensions: The Case of Australia," Working Papers wp338, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
    6. Nick Draper & André Nibbelink & Johannes Uhde, 2013. "An Assessment of Alternatives for the Dutch First Pension Pillar, The Design of Pension Schemes," CPB Discussion Paper 259, CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis.
    7. Nick Draper & André Nibbelink & Johannes Uhde, 2015. "An Assessment of Alternatives for the Dutch First Pension Pillar System," De Economist, Springer, vol. 163(3), pages 281-302, September.

    More about this item


    Stochastic OLG model; Flat versus earnings-related pension; Means-testing; C68; H55;

    JEL classification:

    • C68 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Mathematical Methods; Programming Models; Mathematical and Simulation Modeling - - - Computable General Equilibrium Models
    • H55 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Social Security and Public Pensions


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