Ageing Populations in Post-industrial Democracies: Comparative Studies of Policies and Politics (review)
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Ageing Populations in Post-industrial Democracies: Comparative Studies of Policies and Politics edited by Pieter Vanhuysse and Achim Goerres. Bochum, Germany: Routledge / European Consortium for Political Research, 2011. 272 pp. Cloth $125.00.

This is a great addition to the Studies in European Political Science series. There are 11 chapters, all taking an explicitly comparative political science approach. The focus is on Europe, with Canada making it into a few tables.

A main theme of the book is the interplay of demographic and fiscal considerations with political variables in the evolving adaptation to aging populations. There is no consensus on the relative importance of these considerations. In some regards, the similar demographics and fiscal constraints among European countries push in the same direction, but at the same time there is path dependency based on existing institutional and policy frameworks in each country. For instance, in looking at young people’s demand for public child care across 21 countries, Achim Goerres and Markus Tepe conclude that this demand is “embedded both in welfare state institutions, the normative beliefs for other family generations, and the socially constructed nexus between the family and the welfare state” (p. 199). In particular, when the state has traditionally been active in the area of child care, young people are likely to want the state to be even more active. Canadian young people (under 45) exhibit among the lowest levels of support for public child care. Canada also ranks among the lowest in spending per GDP on maternity allowance and preschool or child-care enrolment at ages 3–5 (p. 190).

Also on the side of path dependency, looking at pension regimes, Mehmet Aysan finds important differences across welfare regimes, with southern European countries having more generous pension replacement rates and higher public old-age spending, while the liberal group (Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States) has higher official retirement age, higher labour force participation for older persons, and lower pension benefits. Canada is placed in the liberal group in this classification of pension regimes. Among the 13 countries compared by Jonas Edlund and Stefan Svallfors, Canada is again with the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, showing among the lowest levels of support for redistribution (p. 212). That is, Canada is in the liberal group not only in extent of redistribution, but also in associated public support.

On the convergence side of the discussion, the “Epilogue” by Robert Hudson argues that the [End Page 443] economic crisis of 2008/09 and fiscal constraints have shifted “the perceived stakes of action on behalf of pensioners” from “positive-sum to zero-sum or even negative-sum” territory (p. 14). Similarly, on the side of this convergence hypothesis, Achim Goerres and Pieter Vanhuysse observe in the introductory chapter that the increase in life expectancy and the relative size of the elderly population bring into question the very basis of the welfare state: “Even if all structures of the welfare state worked perfectly, the system could not be maintained because of this gap between assumptions and reality” (p. 4). Despite the marked differences in institutional bases, Martin Hering concludes that Germany and the United Kingdom embarked on similar paths to address rising pension costs.

The main policy considerations regard pensions and the labour force. For instance, in “Rhetoric and Action on Ageing of the World’s ‘Oldest’ Democracies: Party Platforms and Labour Policies in Germany, Italy, and Japan,” Jennifer Sciubba documents that these three countries have implemented very significant cutbacks of pension benefit generosity in the 1980s and 1990s. On the labour market side, the reforms have sought either to increase the participation of older workers and shorten their access to unemployment benefits, or to bring youth into the labour market.

In his concluding comments, Robert Hudson observes that the labour force participation rates of older persons remain near historical lows, despite efforts to increase them, while young people face both employment and family formation obstacles. It is interesting that fertility and life expectancy make it into the subject index of the book, but not immigration or migration. There are few references to Canada in this collection, but it would surely differ...