This paper examines variation in old-age income inequality between industrialized nations with modern welfare systems. The analysis of income inequality across countries with different retirement income systems provides a perspective on public pension policy choices and designs and their distributional implications. Because of the progressive nature of public pension programs, we hypothesize that there is an inverse relationship between the quality of public pension benefits and old-age income inequality—that is, countries with comprehensive, universal, and generous public pension systems will exhibit more equal distributions of income in old age. Luxembourg Income Study data indeed show that cross-national variation in old-age income inequality is partly explained by differences in the percentage of seniors’ total income derived from public pension transfers. Sweden, for example, has the highest level of government transfers and the lowest level of old-age income inequality, while Israel and the United States have the lowest levels of dependency on government transfers and the highest levels of income inequality. A notable exception is Canada, where public transfers represent only a moderate portion of elderly income, yet old-age income inequality is relatively low. These findings suggest that quality of public pension benefits does indeed play a role in explaining differences in old-age income inequality between industrialized nations, yet these variations are also likely influenced by other factors.

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Journal North American Actuarial Journal
Brown, R.L. (Robert L.), & Prus, S.G. (2004). Social Transfers And Income Inequality In Old Age: A Multinational Perspective. North American Actuarial Journal, 8(4), 30–36. doi:10.1080/10920277.2004.10596169