New challenges and developments in life courses and related policies affecting women’s old-age pensions

in the Board Member States of the European Centre


Michael Fuchs


Michael Fuchs


Tamara Premrov


There is a considerable gender pension gap within the European Union related to acquired entitlements and (if there is an entitlement) also related to the amounts of resulting old-age pensions. Both can be traced back to different life patterns of women and men: Traditionally, women are more likely to take occupational leaves to care for children or elderly/frail family members than men. This causes shorter working lives and lower contribution payments into old-age pension systems. Career breaks are often associated with difficult re-entries into the labour market and therefore may hamper the progress towards better paid positions. Because of ongoing care duties women are likely to return to the labour market on a part-time level, which further widens the gender pension gap. At the same time, due to gender-specific segregation in the working world, women are more often employed in lower-paid sectors. Finally, in combination with the pertaining overall gender pay gap, these factors result in women on average earning less than men throughout their whole working life.

Political areas on the European and national level which are relevant in the context of the corresponding debate are equality policy, employment policy and pension policy. Those have proven to be quite successful in the prevention of gender-specific discrimination. However, indirect discrimination poses the highest weight on the gender-gap in old-age: Female working patterns in many cases do not correspond to the criteria of labour market performance valued or “rewarded” in income-related pension schemes, being only mitigating (if at all) by compensations for career breaks or other forms of redistribution embedded in pension formulas or regulations.

During the last decades many pension reforms in Europe targeted the adequacy of pensions, the adaptability of pension systems to changing environments, and the safeguarding of financial sustainability. Within first pillars of pension systems this usually led to the adaptation of pension formulas like life-long calculation of contributions and increases of the legal and effective retirement age. In addition, second and third pillar pensions were also strengthened, resulting in a diversification of pension systems. This diversification opened up additional options for old-age provision, but the responsibility for outcomes (investment, inflation and longevity risk) was continuously shifted to the individual. Again, this has mixed outcomes related to the pension entitlements of women.


Given changing patterns and life course decisions, we will concentrate on research questions and policy evaluations like:

  • Which kind of policy reforms work in which areas?;
  • Which pension systems or elements are favourable?;
  • What is their policy impact?

The analysis will also point towards policy recommendations based on good practices (what should the national states do?) and (potential) improvements over time.


The project will start off with a desk review of the existing literature, information and statistics for an overview and update of the state of the art of gender gaps in old age pension in Europe. The following mapping of new developments, challenges and policy responses in the six Board Member States of the European Centre (AT, PL, SI, ES, SE, CH) including the consideration of good practices all over Europe will also include relevant and specific policy descriptions, statistical indicators and explanatory and contextual variables.

For explaining and projecting national issues, the results will be utilised and further explored in the context of subsequent interviews with experts (one academic expert from each board member country). Here, we will first discuss the impact of pension policy reforms in each country over the past years, and how they have likely impacted on the gender gap in old age pensions. Interviews will further help us understanding observed effects of explanatory and context factors. Ultimately, we also plan to discuss how ongoing fundamental changes in life course patterns and decisions, demographics, labour market, and social care systems are likely to impact the gender gap in old age pensions in the future.

The European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research supports the Sustainable Development Goals

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UN SDG Gender Equality


European Centre


2020/01 – 2020/12