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Three dimensions of generational justice

Justice, Institutions and Outcomes

Simon Birnbaum, Tommy Ferrarini, Kenneth Nelson and Joakim Palme

In the chapter the authors develop a justice-based argument for why it matters whether the generational welfare contract is balanced and provide equally comprehensive social protection against different age-related social risks. This establishes a normative starting point for the authors’ empirical investigations on how welfare states affect different age groups. Building on the prudential lifespan account of justice between age groups, one set of considerations focuses on how to facilitate stable intergenerational cooperation to enhance life prospects of all successive generations as they move through the different stages of life. A second source of arguments is the ideal of relational equality, bringing attention to inequalities between people in different life stages, especially with respect to goods that matter to their relative power and social status. Finally, a third layer of considerations is derived from justice between non-contemporaries and the requirements of just savings for future generations.

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Profiling the generational welfare contract

Justice, Institutions and Outcomes

Simon Birnbaum, Tommy Ferrarini, Kenneth Nelson and Joakim Palme

In this chapter the authors empirically investigate the generational structure of social citizenship in 18 OECD countries, using new comparative data on income replacement in social insurance directed at three different age-related social risks: childhood, working age and old age. For the period 1980–2010, they identify different types of generational welfare contracts and analyse how they are related to levels of income replacement. Greater balance in the generational structure of social citizenship seems to improve the overall comprehensiveness of the system as well as levels of income replacement in social insurance for each separate age-related social risk; thus supporting their hypothesis of positive-sum solutions in generational politics. While the authors find a general development towards greater balance in the generational structure of social citizenship, as levels of income replacement in social insurance over time have become more evenly distributed across age-related risks, cross-country differences remain substantial.

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Politics of generational welfare contracts

Justice, Institutions and Outcomes

Simon Birnbaum, Tommy Ferrarini, Kenneth Nelson and Joakim Palme

The chapter analyses the political foundations of the generational welfare contract and the patterning of age-related social citizenship rights by focusing on partisan politics. The authors argue that positive-sum solutions in generational politics are more likely to arise in countries where specialized age-related claims for welfare are incorporated into class politics by the presence of strong left parties. The analyses provide support to such class-political and party-oriented explanations. For the period 1960–2010, confessional parties also had a certain influence on the generational structure of social citizenship, and the degree to which income replacement in major social insurance schemes is balanced across age-related social risks. However, this relationship disappeared for the most recent period 1980–2010, which is characterized foremost by expansion of modern family benefits where countries dominated by confessional parties are lagging. Central structural factors – such as the old-age dependency ratio – lack explanatory value for the generational structure of social citizenship.

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The generational welfare contract on the agenda

Justice, Institutions and Outcomes

Simon Birnbaum, Tommy Ferrarini, Kenneth Nelson and Joakim Palme

In the final chapter, the authors return to the issues raised in the first three chapters of the book, and discuss their theoretical expectations in light of the empirical results. Population ageing raises concerns about the feasibility of strategies that rely on comprehensive welfare states for serving different goals and standards of well-being and social justice. One reason is that changes in the age structure will strongly increase demands for intergenerational redistribution. What does a welfare-enhancing, equitable and sustainable generational welfare state contract look like in this context? How can the welfare state serve generational justice over time and how should different strategies in the development of social policy be evaluated? The authors reiterate their analytical framework and briefly summarize the main findings. They discuss the possibilities of establishing and sustaining a just generational welfare contract. Finally, they address ventures for further research.

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The Generational Welfare Contract

Justice, Institutions and Outcomes

Simon Birnbaum, Tommy Ferrarini, Kenneth Nelson and Joakim Palme

This groundbreaking book brings together perspectives from political philosophy and comparative social policy to discuss generational justice. Contributing new insights about the preconditions for designing sustainable, inclusive policies for all of society, the authors expose the possibilities of supporting egalitarian principles in an aging society through balanced generational welfare contracts.
Open access

The generational welfare contract

Justice, Institutions and Outcomes

Simon Birnbaum, Tommy Ferrarini, Kenneth Nelson and Joakim Palme

The chapter puts forwards the hypothesis that it is possible to find positive-sum solutions for the distribution of social citizenship rights across age-related risks. Four ideal-typical generational welfare contracts are outlined. Three of those are unbalanced, where social rights are tilted in favor of one particular target group: children, working age or old age. Unbalanced generational welfare contracts favoring old age are often assumed to foment generational conflict. The fourth ideal-typical category is the balanced generational welfare contract, where the structure of social citizenship rights treats all age-related risks more equally. Balanced generational welfare contracts provide fertile conditions for the formation of common generational interests. The authors expect welfare states that respond more evenly to the needs of each age-related social risk to improve conditions for coalition building, thus providing more favorable conditions for raising the overall generosity of social protection – to the benefit of all age groups.

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Contracts for trust

Justice, Institutions and Outcomes

Simon Birnbaum, Tommy Ferrarini, Kenneth Nelson and Joakim Palme

In the chapter the authors move the analytical spotlight to social and political trust. Whereas social trust is often considered important in shaping social ties between citizens, political trust is more related to the perceived legitimacy of the state and its institutions. Both facets of trust and their relationships to different generational welfare contracts contribute important pieces to the puzzle of understanding how generational politics can receive broad popular support, as well as to how just welfare state institutions can be promoted and maintained for the sustainable future. The authors observed clear relationships between type of generational welfare contract and both forms of trust, lending further empirical evidence for the presence of positive-sum solutions in generational politics. Balanced generational welfare contracts are related to higher levels of political and social trust. Differences in political trust between age-related risk groups also tend to be smaller in countries with balanced generational welfare contracts.

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Contracts for or against employment?

Justice, Institutions and Outcomes

Simon Birnbaum, Tommy Ferrarini, Kenneth Nelson and Joakim Palme

Links between generational welfare contracts and employment outcomes are analyed in this chapter. Poorly functioning labor markets pose serious threats to positive-sum solutions in generational politics. The dominating view in mainstream behavioral economics has come to portray comprehensive welfare states as causing major obstacles for labor market performance and employment growth, thus indirectly raising concerns about the long-term sustainability of balanced generational welfare contracts. The empirical results presented in this chapter strongly challenge such ideas and rather point in the direction of portraying balanced generational welfare contracts as an important social investment. Unemployment appears to be largely unrelated to the ways in which countries have organized their generational welfare contracts, whereas labor force participation tends to be higher in countries where income replacement in social insurance is more extensive, as in countries with balanced generational welfare contracts.

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Contracts for life satisfaction and happiness

Justice, Institutions and Outcomes

Simon Birnbaum, Tommy Ferrarini, Kenneth Nelson and Joakim Palme

Subjective well-being is seldom found among the explicit goal dimensions of policy, and may thus best be viewed as an unintended consequence of social policymaking. The chapter is guided by the idea that subjective well-being may provide important clues to the authors’ investigation of generational welfare contracts. Using new comparative attitudinal data on happiness and life satisfaction, the authors’ analyses indicate that the generational structure of social citizenship indeed is related to subjective well-being. In all countries, the clear majority of citizens are happy and satisfied with life. However, people tend to be somewhat happier and satisfied with life in countries with balanced generational welfare contracts, although cross-national differences are somewhat compressed. An important institutional mechanism appears to be the overall level of income replacement in age-related social insurance, which tends to be higher in countries with balanced generational welfare contracts.

Open access

Contracts against poverty

Justice, Institutions and Outcomes

Simon Birnbaum, Tommy Ferrarini, Kenneth Nelson and Joakim Palme

The capacity of the welfare state to reduce poverty is a classical goal of social policy. The empirical analyses in this chapter demonstrate how institutional structures shaping generational welfare contracts are mirrored in poverty statistics. Poverty tends to be lower in countries with balanced generational welfare contracts. Differences in poverty between age-related risk categories are also comparatively small among countries with balanced generation welfare contracts. The degree to which social insurance is balanced and provides for similar levels of protection for different age-related social risks thus appears crucial for the anti-poverty effects of modern welfare states. At higher poverty thresholds, age-related imbalances in social insurance exert a downward pressure on replacement levels, with higher poverty rates as a consequence. This is observed in the analyses of both total populations and in each age-related risk category.