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Are Aging OECD Welfare States on the Path to Gerontocracy?

Evidence from 18 Democracies, 1980–2002

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 April 2009

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Since 1990 the age of the average OECD median voter has increased three times faster than in the preceding 30 years. We use panel data from 1980–2002 to investigate the effects of population aging on both the program size and the benefit generosity of public pensions in 18 OECD countries. Population aging is accompanied by cutting smaller slices out of larger cakes: it increases aggregate spending on pensions but freezes or decreases the generosity of individual benefits. Controlling for political, institutional and time-period effects, we find that public pension efforts are significantly mediated by welfare regime type. Moreover, since the late 1980s pension effort has more fully adopted a retrenchment logic. It is the politics of fiscal and electoral straitjackets, not gerontocracy, which shape public pension spending today. While population aging is accelerating, contrary to alarmist political economy predictions democracies are not yet dominated by a new distributive politics of elderly power.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2009

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