Social Security and Democracy

Casey B. Mulligan, Ricard Gil, Xavier Sala-i-Martin

NBER Working Paper No. 8958
Issued in May 2002
NBER Program(s):Economics of Aging, Public Economics

Many political economic theories use and emphasize the process of voting in their explanation of the growth of Social Security, government spending, and other public policies. But is there an empirical connection between democracy and Social Security program size or design? Using some new international data sets to produce both country-panel econometric estimates as well as case studies of South American and southern European countries, we find that Social Security policy varies according to economic and demographic factors, but that very different political histories can result in the same Social Security policy. We find little partial effect of democracy on the size of Social Security budgets, on how those budgets are allocated, or how economic and demographic factors affect Social Security. If there is any observed difference, democracies spend a little less of their GDP on Social Security, grow their budgets a bit more slowly, and cap their payroll tax more often, than do economically and demographically similar nondemocracies. Democracies and nondemocracies are equally likely to have benefit formulas inducing retirement and, conditional on GDP per capita, equally likely to induce retirement with a retirement test vs. an earnings test.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w8958

Published: Casey B. Mulligan & Ricard Gil & Xavier X. Sala-i-Martin, 2010. "Social Security and Democracy," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, Berkeley Electronic Press, vol. 10(1). citation courtesy of

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