Pensions at a glance: public policies across OECD countries
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.
pensions; retirement; ageing
This second edition of Pensions at a Glance updates all the important indicators of retirement-income systems developed for the first edition. The values of all pension system parameters reflect the situation in the year 2004. The general approach adopted is a “microeconomic” one, looking at prospective individual entitlements under all 30 of OECD member countries’ pension regimes. The report starts by showing the different schemes that together make up national retirement income provision, including a summary of the parameters and rules of pension systems. This is followed by eight main indicators of pension income that are calculated using the OECD pension models. This issue also contains two special analyses on pension reforms and private pensions, which use the OECD pension models to explore more deeply the central issues of pension policy in national debates. Finally, the report provides detailed background information on each of the 30 countries’ retirement-income arrangements. For workers at average earnings, the average for the OECD countries of the gross replacement rate, i.e. the ratio between pension benefit and pre-retirement earnings, from mandatory pensions is 58.7%. But taxes play an important role in old-age support. Pensioners often do not pay social security contributions and, as personal income taxes are progressive and pension entitlements are usually lower than earnings before retirement, they usually pay less taxes. For average earners, the net replacement rate across OECD countries is nearly 70% on average, some 11 percentage points higher than the average gross replacement rate. For low earners, the average net replacement rate across OECD countries is 83%. But there are regional differences: the Nordic countries offer a 95% net replacement rate to workers on half average earnings while the Anglophone OECD countries pay 76% of previous net earnings. What matters for governments, however, is not only the replacement rate but the value of the overall pension promise. This is measured by the indicator of pension wealth which takes life expectancy and the indexation of pensions in payment into account. Using this indicator, the pension promise is most expensive in Luxembourg. On average, each male pensioner will receive the equivalent of USD 920 000 and each female retiree over USD 1 million. The Netherlands and Greece rank second and third on this measure. The most modest pension systems are those of Belgium, Ireland, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States where pension wealth is around two-thirds of the average for OECD countries. The lowest ranking is occupied by Mexico where men and women are promised a pension equivalent to USD 34 000 and 32 000, respectively. Nearly all the 30 OECD countries have made at least some changes to their pension systems since 1990. As a result, the average pension promise in the 16 countries - whose reforms are studied in this report - was cut by 22%. For women, the reduction was 25%. Only in two of the 16 countries – Hungary and the United Kingdom – were there increased pension promises on average. How will these changes affect different individuals? Some countries – such as France, Portugal and the United Kingdom – are moving towards greater targeting of public pensions on low earners thus bolstering the safety-net. Others – such as Poland and the Slovak Republic – have moved to tighten the link between pension entitlements and earnings, which may put low-earners at a higher risk of poverty. In Germany, Japan, Mexico, Poland and the Slovak Republic, for example, the net pension entitlement for a full-career worker with half average earnings was around 41% of average earnings before reform, slightly below the average for the OECD as a whole. The reforms will cut this to just 32.5%. In contrast, Finland, France, Hungary, Korea, New Zealand and the United Kingdom have protected low-income workers from cuts in benefit in their pension reforms. The intense reform activity in OECD countries means that today’s workers will have to do more on their own to prepare for tomorrow’s retirement. In some countries, the savings effort necessary to reach the OECD average replacement rate is substantial, even if workers save throughout their entire career. If young workers miss out on the first 10 or 15 years of their career because of other demands on their budget, reaching a sufficient pension level will become even more difficult. This report illustrates how important it is that workers start saving early and contribute regularly.
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