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ECPR Journals Virtual Special Issue

Behaviour Change and the Demographic Challenge

Public Policy
Social Policy
Welfare State
Kent Weaver
Georgetown University
Kent Weaver
Georgetown University

Almost all advanced industrial countries, and an increasing number of developing countries, are confronting a decline in the ratio of their working age population to persons of retirement age, partly as a result of increased life expectancy and partly as a result of pension policies that have encouraged early retirement. This challenge is being exacerbated in many countries by a decline in fertility rates below levels needed to replace the population in the absence of immigration.
Several changes in behaviour—notably increasing fertility, increased female labor force participation, and longer working lives—could contribute to addressing these challenges. But most democratic governments have been reluctant to develop policy regimes that would have the greatest probability of changing these behaviors, especially policy changes that are seen as highly intrusive into private behaviors, would be very costly, or would interfere with what voters have come to see as entitlements.
This paper focuses on government efforts to lengthen working lives. The first section addresses the multiple barriers to behavior change and the heterogeneity of the target population that complicates efforts to impose simple solutions. The second section outlines the range of potential mechanisms available to address those barriers, from simply providing information, to admonitions, increased incentives to delay retirement, and manipulation of choice architecture to more intrusive mechanisms (e.g., mandated increases in the standard retirement age and bans on early retirement). The third section of the paper examines the policy choices made by five countries: the United States, Canada, Germany New Zealand and Sweden, and the reasons for cross national variation. The fourth section evaluates the success of various mechanisms in promoting behavior change, and the final section suggests policy lessons based on those national experiences.
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