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Retirement Programs And Social Change

Family and demographic change during the past decades (especially women's rising labor force participation, increases in divorces, and decreases in fertility after the baby-boom during the 1950s and 1960s) have unleashed debates about Social Security programs in many countries. Central to these debates are the call for adequate independent old age security for women and generational equity in social programs.

Social Security regulations in the United States and many other industrialized countries reflect a male provider-role ideology that is at odds with today's family values and behaviors (Arber and Ginn 1991; Rolf 1991; Sainsbury 1996). In most countries, old age security and private pension benefits are tied to continuous work histories (exceptions are countries with flat old age benefits such as Australia, but many of these countries have additional employment-based public or private pensions such as superannuation in Australia; see Social Security Administration 1999). Because it is primarily women who disrupt employment for child or elder care, their retirement benefits tend to be considerably lower than men's. Women's lower wages and employment in industries that are not covered by private pensions further aggravate this economic disadvantage (Gonnot et al. 1995; Kingson and O'Grady-LeShane 1993; Walker et al. 1993). Although a growing number of countries have begun to address this inequity by crediting some care years as "work" years in Social Security calculations (the United States does not have such credits), these credits rarely provide full compensation for lost work opportunities. Furthermore, most European Community countries have also implemented paid leave programs for mothers that encourage longer work disruptions (McMullen and Marshall 1999; Prinz and Marin 1999). Consequently, in countries both with and without childcare credits, many wives or widows must rely on their spouses' benefits (Hieden-Sommer 1994; Pampel 1998; Rosenman and Winocur 1990), an option that negates the value of women's own achievements in the labor force. Furthermore, reliance on spouses' benefits is limited for the growing number of retiring divorcees (for instance, in the United States, spouse benefits for divorcees are restricted to marriages lasting ten years or more, yet most divorces occur earlier), and some countries still disregard nonmarital unions.

Lower fertility, when combined with higher longevity, brings about increases in the old-age dependency ratio, that is, the number of persons Retirees dancing outside the Cheshire Home for the Aged in Nairobi, Kenya. A/P WIDE WORLD PHOTOS sixty-five and over as a proportion of the "working" population. Some argue that taxes that finance programs and benefits for the increasing number of elderly deplete the economic resources of relatively smaller younger cohorts, often at the expense of programs for children (for a review of these arguments see Kingson et al. 1986; Quadagno 1991), and advocate reductions in government spending for the elderly, including Social Security, or a shift to individually funded pension schemes. Nevertheless, opinion surveys show consistently high support for tax-funded old age pensions (Dekker 1993), and history—as well as evidence from present-day countries without old age pensions—tells us that family-funded support for the elderly is insecure and not conducive to intergenerational ties (Kingson et al. 1986; Ngan et al. 1999; ). Indeed, as Alan Walker (1999, p. 10–11) notes, the generational contract inherent in taxfunded old age pension schemes implies "acceptance of the notion that generations are interdependent" and thus serves intergenerational solidarity and social cohesion. At a time when families are struggling to adapt to new societal and economic realities, retirement policies and programs are needed that further gender equality, incorporate alternative family life styles, and protect intergenerational ties.


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Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaOther Marriage & Family TopicsRetirement - Definitions And Trends, Family Influences On The Retirement Transition, Family Influences On Postretirement Well-being