Aaron George Grech
Published 1 May 2012
Successive reforms enacted since the 1990s have dramatically changed Europe’s pensions landscape. This paper tries to assess the impact of recent reforms on the ability of systems to alleviate poverty and maintain living standards, using estimates of pension wealth for a number of hypothetical cases. By focusing on all prospective pension transfers rather than just those at the point of retirement, this approach can provide additional insights on the efficacy of pension systems in the light of increasing longevity. Our estimates indicate that while reforms have decreased generosity significantly, in most countries poverty alleviation remains strong. However, moves to link benefits to contributions have made some systems less progressive, raising adequacy concerns for certain groups. In particular, unless the labour market outcomes of women and of lower-income individuals change substantially over the coming decades, state pension transfers will prove inadequate, particularly in Eastern European countries. Similarly while the generosity of minimum pensions appears to have either been safeguarded by pension reforms, or improved in some cases, these transfers generally remain inadequate to maintain individuals above the 60% relative poverty threshold throughout retirement. Our simulations suggest that the gradual negative impact of price indexation on the relative adequacy of state pensions is becoming even more substantial in view of the lengthening of the time spent in receipt of retirement benefits. The consumption smoothing function of state pensions has declined noticeably, strengthening the need for longer careers and additional private saving. When pressed, policymakers, particularly in Western Europe, seem to have been more willing to sacrifice the income smoothing function of pensions rather than its poverty alleviation function. Policymakers in some counties, notably Germany, France and the UK, have sought to refocus state pension systems towards generating better outcomes for people in the bottom half of the income distribution, probably with the insight that middle- to high-income individuals are possibly in a better position to accommodate the effect of state pension reforms by increasing their private saving. However in some cases, notably in Eastern Europe, results suggest that policymakers may not have fully considered the full impact of their policies on those on low incomes, on those with incomplete careers and on women.