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How to meet the economic as well as social needs of the elderly is a challenge for any government. It has been particularly taxing for countries transitioning from a command economy in to a free market economy, as citizens have had to adjust expectations for what they should expect from the private as well as public sectors to fund their retirement. Adapting expectations and educating current and future pensioners has been a tremendous hurdle for governments as they look to making fundamental changes in paying for pensions.

The collapse of communism meant the role of the state in providing pensions was significantly altered on a global basis with the introduction of mandatory private pension systems. Often referred to as second pillar funds, the funds in Eastern Europe were part of privatization programs aimed at moving former command economies towards more economically and politically liberal democracies. The new pension reforms introduced schemes that sought to remove future pension burdens by transferring risks from the state to individual pension members or participants by substituting or adding defined contribution type schemes to traditional state run defined benefit plans.

Eastern European countries were burdened by tremendous pressures on their social safety nets, particularly on the legacy state pension programs which made huge pensions promises that were difficult to keep. Moreover, the countries of Central Europe, unlike those in the Former Soviet Union, were witnessing significant changes to life expectancy that further increased pressures on social safety net programs. The statutory retirement ages were too low and anticipated life expectancies and mortality improvements were too long to manage indefinitely.

Efforts varied in Hungary, Poland and Romania. Each have taken somewhat different approaches to alter or completely reverse their second pillar pension schemes and assess the impacts on capital markets, retirement market development, and present and future savings contributions and contribution rates. These countries represent three distinct stages in the process of reversing second pillar pension reforms.

Learn more about the efforts of Hungary, Poland, and Romania and the expected effects of these reforms in this report from Michael Corbin.  

How are changing demographics affecting pension plans in East Asia?  Read more in Corbin's piece for the Asia Dispatches blog.

About the Author

Michael Corbin

Michael Corbin

Senior International Trade Specialist, U.S. Department of Commerce
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Global Europe Program

The Global Europe Program addresses vital issues affecting Europe’s relations with the rest of the world through scholars-in-residence, seminars, international conferences and publications. These programmatic activities cover wide-ranging topics include: European energy security, the role of the European Union and NATO, democratic transitions, and counter-terrorism, among others. The program also investigates comparatively European approaches to policy issues of importance to the United States, including migration, global governance, and relations with Russia, China and the Middle East.  Read more

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The Asia Program promotes policy debate and intellectual discussions on U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific as well as political, economic, security, and social issues relating to the world’s most populous and economically dynamic region.   Read more