Social Security Around the World

Oct 9, 2018 / Amanda Chase, Horsesmouth Assistant Editor

You’ve probably heard a lot about Russia lately, but not this: a pension reform bill increasing the retirement age from 55 for women and 60 for men to 60 and 65, respectively. From an American point of view, one might be surprised that the retirement age was ever this low in the first place, or that retirement ages were and still remain different for men and women. Additionally, there is no early retirement option. Globally, this is not unusual.

American workers in the years prior to normal retirement age who exhaust their unemployment benefits, or those who consider themselves likely to die young because of family history or their own poor health, are likely to simply start receiving Social Security benefits with the early retirement penalties. In fact, our system, despite the official “full retirement age” of 67 for by now most workers, actually provides “full” or maximum benefits at age 70, with reductions or de facto reductions for benefit commencement prior to that age—a provision that’s either a bug or a feature, depending on your perspective: it provides greater flexibility but at a cost in lost benefits that may create financial hardship down the road.

Here’s a listing of Western European countries, from Social Security Programs Throughout the World:

Belgium: age 65, rising to age 67 in 2030, or age 63 with 41 (42 in 2019) years of coverage (work history).

Denmark: age 65, rising to age 68 in 2038 with further life-expectancy increases afterwards. No benefits prior to this age.

France: the "normal retirement age" is 62, but only with those with 41 years of coverage, rising to 43 years by 2035 ("coverage" also includes 2 years' bonus per child and unemployment benefit periods); those without sufficient work history can retire at age 62 with a reduction of 5% for each year of missing work history, or can retire at age 67 in any case.

Germany: age 65 and 7 months, increasing to age 67 in 2029, or age 65 ½, increasing to age 65 in 2029, with at least 45 years of contributions.

Ireland: age 66, increasing to age 68 by 2028. No benefits prior to this age.

Netherlands: age 66, rising to age 67 and 3 months by 2022. No benefits prior to this age.

Switzerland: age 65 for men or age 64 for women; early retirement is available at age 63/62 with a reduction of 6.8% per year.

United Kingdom: age 65 for men or age 63 for women, rising to 67 for both in 2028. No benefits prior to this age.

Imagine that when Congress had increased the normal retirement age from 65 to 67 in 1983, they had likewise increased the early retirement age a corresponding amount, or removed the option entirely, or added a similar work-history requirement. What would have happened? Would Americans have adjusted their retirement patterns accordingly, and would employers have adjusted their expectations for when a worker is "too old" to hire or to stay employed?

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