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Pensions remain at the top of the list of citizens’ concerns in Europe, but unemployment security and family policy have attracted growing focus in the wake of the financial crisis. These shifts in public opinion are highlighted in a new study by the Finnish Centre for Pensions.

Aart-Jan Riekhoff, Senior Researcher at the Finnish Centre for Pensions,says that public attitudes towards pensions have shifted most significantly in European countries where the retirement age has been raised or where pension security depends increasingly on private savings. On the other hand, there has been less movement in public opinion in countries where the focus of pension reforms has concentrated on pension contributions and benefits.

“Raising the retirement age and private pension savings tend to attract more political debate and to gain more media attention. It’s possible that they have a greater impact on citizens’ opinions about pensions”, Riekhoff says.

Riekhoff is particularly interested to learn which areas of social policy and welfare services are regarded by citizens as the state’s responsibility and to find out how pension reforms impact the generational welfare contact.

Citizens’ preferences for welfare policies in Europe, pensions relative to unemployment security and family matters in 2008 and 2016 (in excel file)

The findings show that the importance of pension issues relative to social security and family or childcare services for the working age population has declined most of all in the UK, Ireland, Poland, the Czech Republic and Norway.

“At the same time the relative importance of pension issues has remained unchanged in countries with a limited welfare state, such as the UK.”

In Finland there has been hardly any movement in the importance attached to pension security.

“People in Finland still attach only slightly more importance to pension issues than to social security or family issues. Public opinion has shifted very little since the financial crisis”, Riekhoff adds.

Generational contract being rewritten

Aart-Jan Riekhoff’s results also show that the generational welfare contract is in the process of being rewritten. Although it is sometimes suggested that there is a growing gulf between pensioners and people of working age, older people are in fact showing greater solidarity towards younger age groups.

“In my opinion European views on social policy have been converging rather than diverging. In many countries even older people are now in favour of policies that advance the interests not only of pensioners but also younger generations”, Riekhoff points out.

The data for the research come from the OECD Pensions at a Glance report, which compares the pension reforms introduced in different countries in 2013, 2015 and 2017, and opinion data from European Social Surveys in 2008 and 2016. The analysis looks at 61,000 responses from 18 countries.

Pension reforms, the generational welfare contract and preferences for pro‐old welfare policies in Europe is published in a special issue of Social Policy & Administration entitled “Inequalities in Pensions and Retirement: Life‐courses and Pension Systems in Comparative Perspective.” Social Policy & Administration is a subscription journal.

The article is published in parallel in Julkari (where it will be publicly accessible after the embargo period expires on 14 Dec 2022)

Photo: Gettyimages

Finnish Centre for Pensions – Central body of and expert on statutory earnings-related pensions