hero working papers

When the State Mirrors the Family: The Design of Pension Systems

Number: 392
Year: 2011
Author(s): Vincenzo Galasso and Paola Profeta
The family is a primal institution, whose internal organization can be transferred to collective institutions, which come to substitute the family in one of its economic roles. We study how the family structure affected the initial design of pension systems. Our theoretical framework predicts that, when pensions systems are introduced in society with weak family ties, they act as a safety net, while in societies with strong ties pensions they replicate the tight link between generations and tend to provide generous benefits. Using Todd (1983) historical classification of family ties, we show that in societies dominated by absolute nuclear families, i.e. weak family ties (f.i. Anglo-Saxon countries), pension systems emerged as a safety net; and viceversa in societies dominated by strong families. Yet, historical family types are not correlated with the size of the pension systems, which have largely changed over time. These results are robust to controlling for alternative explanations, such as legal origin, religion, urbanization and democratization, electoral rules and forms of government. Moreover, evidence on individual data confirm the cross-country results: individuals whose ancestors came to the US from countries featuring communitarian or egalitarian nuclear families prefer to rely on the government as a provider of old age security through generous retirement benefits.

Keywords: culture; institutions; family ties, pension design
JEL codes: Z10; Z13; N30; H10; H55