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The Aging Population and the Size of the Welfare State: Is There a Puzzle?

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  • Cameron A. Shelton

    () (Economics Department, Wesleyan University)

Abstract

Razin, Sadka, and Swagel (2002) unveil a puzzling fact: the welfare state appears to be shrinking even as the dependency ratio rises. While they formulate an elegant political economy model to explain the coexistence of an aging population and declining transfers, the resolution of the puzzle turns out to be much simpler. Labor tax rates and per capita transfers are negatively correlated with the dependency ratio in advanced economies only because this measure includes children as well as retirees. Both labor tax rates and per capita transfers in advanced economies are, in fact, historically positively correlated with the ratio of retirees to the working-age population and negatively correlated with the ratio of children to the working-age population. Increasing the number of retirees shifts preferences toward higher taxes and transfers by increasing the fraction of the population that receives transfers. In contrast, workers with more children prefer to spend more of their lifetime income while raising dependents, so they prefer smaller public pension systems. These results suggest that fiscal leakage from workers to retirees is not required to explain the broad trends in the transfer policies of advanced economies.

Suggested Citation

  • Cameron A. Shelton, 2007. "The Aging Population and the Size of the Welfare State: Is There a Puzzle?," Wesleyan Economics Working Papers 2007-001, Wesleyan University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:wes:weswpa:2007-001
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    2. Ulrich Thiessen & Konstantin A. Kholodilin & Boriss Siliverstovs, 2008. "Does Aging Influence Sectoral Employment Shares? Evidence from Panel Data," KOF Working papers 08-214, KOF Swiss Economic Institute, ETH Zurich.
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    4. Tim Krieger & Jens Ruhose, 2013. "Honey, I shrunk the kids’ benefits—revisiting intergenerational conflict in OECD countries," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 157(1), pages 115-143, October.
    5. Philipp Jäger & Torsten Schmidt, 2015. "The Political Economy of Public Investment when Population is Aging – A Panel Cointegration Analysis," Ruhr Economic Papers 0557, Rheinisch-Westfälisches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Universität Dortmund, Universität Duisburg-Essen.
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    8. Jäger, Philipp & Schmidt, Torsten, 2016. "The political economy of public investment when population is aging: A panel cointegration analysis," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 145-158.
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    15. Benarroch, Michael & Pandey, Manish, 2012. "The relationship between trade openness and government size: Does disaggregating government expenditure matter?," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 34(1), pages 239-252.
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    Keywords

    dependency ratio; welfare state;

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