Financial protection in old age is indisputably one of the core objectives of modern welfare states and based on a major share of social expenditure. Yet, its legal implementation and institutional organisation vary widely across countries and are often subject to political debate. Despite common pressures posed by demographic and societal change, these national differences in old age security are likely to remain, as the current legal foundations actively shape today’s policy making and dictate – at least to some degree – the pace and direction of future reforms. The research project Pension Maps examines these legal foundations of old age security in Europe and selected non-European countries with the objective of providing a comprehensive and systematic legal overview of the institutional landscape of national old age security in the form of a large-scale cross-country comparative analysis. The information on each system are summarized in a concise country report.
The Pension Map
The core element of a country report is the so-called Pension Map, a visual representation of the respective national old age security system. The Pension Map is designed in accordance with an analytical framework (see below) and uses different illustrative tools (size, colour, shapes) to picture all relevant information in a single image. By capturing the multifaceted interplay of different pension schemes, the Pension Map provides answers to the following research questions at one glance:
- How is old age security organised within a given country? How do public, occupational and private pension schemes interact?
- How can a standard level of protection be achieved in old age? What measures will secure a minimum level of protection, and do these measures form part of the old age security system? What are the options for topping up pension benefits? How high is the average level of protection provided in a country compared to the European and OECD average?
- Which population groups are considered and protected by formal institutions? What are the forms of participation and do they vary systematically between pension schemes? Does the level and form of protection differ between population groups?
The pension maps are complemented by a short summary of the system’s key institutional features as well as more detailed information on each pension scheme, including information on its coverage, financing mechanisms, administrative bodies, qualifying conditions and old age benefits. The accompanying information shall facilitate the understanding of the respective pension map and the interplay of different pension schemes. The coherence and consistency of the accompanying information enables swift comparison of the institutional structure of old age security and specific pension schemes within and across countries.
The Analytical Framework
Pinpointing the basic characteristics of old age security systems requires a systematic approach based on relevant concepts and categories. To this end, the Department of Foreign and International Social Law has developed an analytical framework. The product of this work is a new systematisation of old age security which captures the multifaceted interplay of different old age pension schemes. It utilises the following categories in order to facilitate cross-country comparative research:
- Legal form: The ‘legal form’ refers to the legal basis of the pension scheme and the form of organisation as defined by the legal relationship between the institution and the insured person or beneficiary. We distinguish between three legal forms: (a) public refers to pension schemes based on public law and administered by public institutions; (b) private refers to personal pension provision based on private law and administered by private law pension plan providers; (c) as a third category, occupational refers to pension plans linked directly to a person's occupational activity or industrial relations.
- Function: The ‘function’ refers to the social policy aim of benefits (or: schemes). We distinguish between three main functions: (a) minimum protection refers to a (guaranteed) minimum level of (pension) income in old age; (b) standard protection refers to the intended level of pension benefits in old age; (c) the topping-up function describes supplementary pension benefits exceeding standard protection.
- Right to access: The ‘right to access’ indicates the categories of persons of working age that are either able or required to enter a pension scheme. The ‘right to access’ equals the ‘factual coverage’ of schemes with mandatory affiliation and indicates the ‘intended coverage’ for schemes with voluntary affiliation. For means-tested schemes, the ‘potential (future) coverage’ is displayed, usually embracing the entirety of the working age population when considered in need in old age.
- Legal form of affiliation: The ‘form of affiliation’ can vary from mandatory affiliation, making insurance for the person legally binding; to voluntary participation, leaving it up to the person to join a pension scheme; and other forms, such as automatic enrolment with possibilities of opting out.
- Means testing: We distinguish between minimum protection schemes with some form of ‘means testing’ based on a person’s/family’s income, assets and/or pension benefits; and minimum protection schemes with strict ‘pension testing’ based solely on the person’s pension benefits.
- Modes of financing: We differentiate between two often competing ‘modes of financing’: schemes financed on a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) basis (red contour line) and (fully or partially) capital-funded schemes (blue contour line).
- Sources of financing: They refer to the scheme’s budget and specify the degree to which a scheme is financed out of (insurance) contributions or the state’s general budget. The latter does not only consider state subsidies, but also other forms of incentives (such as tax reductions) that are at the expense of the state.
In collaboration with experts in social security law from all over Europe, the Department of Foreign and International Social Law is currently working on 32 country reports (see box with contributors on the right). The systematic collection of information will comprise 29 European countries (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland) and 3 non-European countries (Brazil, China and the Russian Federation). In March 2021, the first edition of the Pension Map Report with 10 countries was published, illustrating the status quo in 2020. More countries will be included in subsequent editions.
The research project is part of a larger collaborative project entitled ‘On the Edge of Societies: New Vulnerable Populations, Emerging Challenges for Social Policies, and Future Demands for Social Innovation. The Experience of the Baltic Sea States‘, which is carried out jointly by the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock and the Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy in Munich.
See project website for results.