Sources of Support for Pension Reform: A Cross-National Perspective

Michelle Dion Andrew Roberts

WP#2008-23

Abstract

Many accounts of pension politics assign primary importance to societal forces. In the well-known formulation, pensions are the “third rail” of politics: politicians cannot cut benefits without suffering electoral retribution.  In addition, some see the preferences of business as a key determinant of pension policy. This study takes aim at this problem by exploring what factors lead citizens and firms to support public pension systems and various reform efforts. To answer these questions, we analyze a survey of individuals and firms in 20 countries from five continents regarding attitudes toward pensions conducted by the Oxford Institute of Aging and the HSBC Bank. We examine separately variation in individual and then firm preferences regarding the role of government in pension provision and pension reform options. Then, we compare the preferences of firms to those of individuals to identify the potential space available for policy reform. The main results from the analyses are three. First, there are large cross-national differences in preferences of both individuals and firms. Second, these cross-national differences are not well explained by conventional theories. Third, there is some but not overwhelming support for micro-level theories about the reasons for differences between firms and individuals.