The age profile of European welfare states: A source of intergenerational conflict?
Chapter, Peer reviewed
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Many have predicted that population aging will lead to increased distributional conflicts between the young and the old. Younger population segments will oppose the heavy burden that pension systems and public provision of elderly care place upon them, while the elderly will take advantage of their increased share of the electorate to push through political priorities favoring themselves. Based on this expectation, the chapter sets out to investigate the contemporary age orientation of welfare spending in selected European welfare states and voter preferences with respect to policies that benefit the elderly and families with children, respectively. The study covers 13 European countries, divided into four groups: Social Democratic/Nordic, Liberal, Conservative/Continental and Southern European welfare states. We use data on social expenditure provided by the OECD and data on voter preferences from Round 8 of the European Social Survey. The study reveals a tendency for decline in spending bias in favor of the elderly in all countries. A main result from the analysis of voter preferences is that European voters in general support the idea that the state should take responsibility for the wellbeing of both the elderly and families, and we find a rather modest age gradient in attitudes toward public age-related spending. Our findings indicate a tendency toward convergence in age policy across Europe without clear signs of increasing conflicts between age groups.