How pension systems reproduce inequalities and poverty in old age in Europe

Professor Bernhard Ebbinghaus presented his comparative analysis on reproducing inequalities and poverty risks in old age pension income across Europe at the Finnish Centre for Pensions in Helsinki as part of their ETK Research seminar on Pension reforms, non-standard work and life course inequalities in the OECD.

There has been much discussion recently of pension sustainability, in the face of demographic ageing. But there has been relatively little exploration of whether retirement income is enough for people’s basic needs – and there is growing evidence of an increase in old age poverty in many European countries.

Different pensions systems are in use across Europe – some are not always capable of effectively reducing poverty despite the explicit goal to do so, and some are better suited to reduce poverty. Professor Ebbinghaus’ research finds that the elderly are more at risk of poverty than the working population. The exceptions are some Nordic pension systems such as Finland, a few central European countries as well as the Dutch multipillar system. Overall there is still considerable variation across Europe in the reproduction of income inequality, and poverty risks from working lives into old age retirement income, particularly for social risk groups such as those with non-standard working lives.

Find out how he answered the underlying question: ‘Do you think pension systems should even out the inequalities of labour market?’ in this short YouTube interview.

To find out more:

Ebbinghaus, Bernhard, Kenneth Nelson, & Rense Nieuwenhuis (2019). “Poverty in Old Age” LIS Working Paper Series, No. 777.

New online article on the role of organized interest in pension financialisation

Recent reforms have responded to demographic ageing and fiscal challenges by shifting toward the multipillarisation of pensions to achieve financial sustainability. Reforms towards privatization and marketization of retirement income provision occurred in Britain and Germany with different pension system legacies. While public opinion supports largely the status quo, the stakeholders, in particular, organized capital and labour, have evolved in their positions towards pension reforms. The analysis seeks to draw out how organized interests have sought to influence mulitipillarisation but also adapted their strategies in the context of increasing financialisation in the two political economies. The position of trade unions, employers’ associations, social advocacy groups and the finance sector has increasingly embraced multipillarisation, earlier and more so in Britain than in Germany. A reversal of pension financialisation seems no longer possible but the inequalities and uncertainties need to be addressed in order to make multipillarisation politically sustainable.

Bernhard Ebbinghaus (2019) “Multipillarisation remodelled: the role of interest organizations in British and German pension reforms”, Journal of European Public Policy, online preprint, DOI: 10.1080/13501763.2019.1574875

“Altersvorsorge” Artikel in WSI-Mitteilungen

Privatisierung und Vermarktlichung der Altersvorsorge: Eingetrübte Aussichten des deutschen Mehrsäulenmodells

WSI-Mitteilungen 6/2018, S. 468-475

Innerhalb von 70 Jahren hat die deutsche Alterssicherung einen Paradigmenwechsel vom Bismarck’schen Modell der umlagefinanzierten Rentenversicherung zum liberalen Mehrsäulenmodell vollzogen. Unter den gegebenen fiskalischen Restriktionen und angesichts zukünftiger demografischer Alterung wurde das Ziel einer lebensstandardsichernden Rente auf staatliche und private Säulen verlagert. Die freiwillige kapitalgedeckte Riester-Rente kann die zukünftige Rentenlücke nur unzureichend schließen. Zudem hat die jüngste Finanzmarktkrise auch die Grenzen einer kapitalgedeckten Altersvorsorge aufgezeigt. Und nicht zuletzt bedarf auch die betriebliche Altersvorsorge einer tarifpolitischen Weiterentwicklung, um zukunftsfähig zu sein. Die bisherigen Reformen wappnen nur ungenügend gegen die Risiken steigender Altersarmut in einer flexibleren Arbeitsgesellschaft. Eine bessere Mindestsicherung in der Rentenversicherung und eine breitere Deckung der Zusatzversorgung sind unabdingbar, um eine sozial und politisch nachhaltige Altersversorgung zu erreichen. 


Trade Unions in Western Europe Handbook now online

Trade Unions in Western Europe

As part of the Handbook Series “The Societies of Europe”, the volume Trade Unions in Western Europe since 1945 by Bernhard Ebbinghaus and Jelle Visser has become a major source for scholars studying the history of postwar trade unionism in Western Europe with over 800 google scholar citations today. This 800 page handbook maps the variations in union organization and membership in fifteen Western European economies. Its  country chapters provide introductory profiles, chronologies, cross-sectional and time-series tables, as well as comparative indicators on union density and organizational patterns of major trade unions and their confederations. Initially published as a handbook by Macmillan in 2000, the introductory, comparative and country chapters are now available as part of Palgrave History Collection with Springer Link.



Visiting Mercator Fellow at University of Mannheim


Professor Bernhard Ebbinghaus has been awarded a Mercator Fellowship for  cooperative research at the University of Mannheim by the Mercator Foundation and German Research Foundation (DFG).  Over the next four years (2018-21) Prof Ebbinghaus will cooperate with Prof Katja Möhring and Dr Elias Naumann in the research project A6 “Welfare State Reform Support from Below” in the Collaborative Research Centre (SFB 884) Political Economy of Reform at University of Mannheim. Prof Ebbinghaus had been Principal Investigator for the project A6 during the first two periods of the SFB 884 (2010-17), the main results were published in a volume edited by Ebbinghaus and Naumann “Welfare State Reforms Seen from Below” with Palgrave Macmillan/Springer in 2018.

Welfare State Reform Project Book Published


Bernhard Ebbinghaus & Elias Naumann (eds.) Welfare State Reforms Seen from Below: Comparing Public Attitudes and Organized Interests in Britain and Germany. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018 (hard cover); Springer Online (e-book).

Studying the political economy of welfare state reform, this edited collection focuses on the role of public opinion and organized interests in respect to policy change. It highlights that welfare states are hard pressed to reform in order to cope with ongoing socio-economic and demographic challenges. While public opinion is commonly seen to oppose welfare cuts and organized interests such as trade unions have tended to defend acquired social rights, this book shows that there have been emergent tendencies in favour of reform. Welfare State Reforms Seen from Below analyses a wide range of social policies affecting healthcare, pensions and the labour market to demonstrate how social groups and interest organizations differ and interact in their approaches to reform. Comparing Britain and Germany, with its two very different welfare states, it provides a European perspective on the changing approaches to welfare.
PDF-Download of Introduction: Chapter 1 (Introduction)


More information on the project Welfare State Reforms from Below as part of the collaborative research centre (SFB 884) “Political Economy of Reform” at University of Mannheim:

Head of Department

The start of this new academic year brings a new Head of the Department of Social Policy and Intervention. Professor Bernhard Ebbinghaus arrived in Oxford to take up his post as Professor of Social Policy in January 2017, and now brings his experience as past director of the Mannheim Centre for European Social Research to DSPI. At yesterday’s General Meeting of the Department, Professor Ebbinghaus took the opportunity to thank Dr Rebecca Surender, who has ably led DSPI over the past two years. Dr Surender, who is taking a sabbatical leave from the Department this year, is also the University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Advocate for Equality and Diversity.

Professor Ebbinghaus commented: “It will be my pleasure to serve as new Head of Department for the next three years, to continue the Barnett House tradition, and to support our excellence in teaching and research, interdisciplinary exchange, policy-relevant social research, and international outlook.

You can find out more about the people in leadership at DSPI here