Bernhard Ebbinghaus
Reversing early exit from work in Europe - Overcoming push and pull towards early retirement

The Political Economy Research Group (PERG) Seminar, Central European University, Budapest, 05. Dezember 2013

Recent reform efforts of advanced welfare states have attempted to reverse early retirement trends and increase the statutory retirement age often against the protest of unions, firms and their employees. Early exit from work has become a widespread practice as a consequence of expanding welfare states and as response to economic challenges since the 1970s. Early retirement has been part of Continental Europe’s welfare without work problem, while the Scandinavian welfare states, the Anglophone liberal economies and the Japanese welfare society were able to maintain higher levels of employment for older workers. Since the 1990s, an international consensus to reverse early exit from work emerged among international organizations and national policy experts. Based on a comparative historical analysis of selected OECD countries, this study analyses the cross-national variations in the institutionalization of early exit regimes and its recent reversal using macro-indictors on early exit trends and stylized information on institutional arrangements. Comparing the interaction of social policy and economic institutions, it reviews the cross-national differences in welfare state “pull” and economic “push” factors that have contributed to early exit from work and discusses the likely impact of welfare retrenchment and “stay” factors such as activation policies in decreasing early exit from work.