Broad Reciprocity, Elderly Poverty, and the Retiree/Nonretiree Cleavage in the Demand for Public Retirement Income Support Articles uri icon

publication date

  • May 2013

start page

  • 255

end page

  • 280


  • 60

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0037-7791

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1533-8533


  • This article examines whether a structural or a neo-institutionalist approach best explains cross-national variations in the retiree/nonretiree cleavage regarding pension policy preferences. Prior research on welfare policy attitudes shows that in European countries retirees are more likely to support intensive public pension provision than are nonretirees, while in the United States both groups are as likely to support it. As an alternative to the increasingly predominant, neo-institutionalist approach, I propose a structural explanation that focuses on the role of elderly poverty. I argue that higher levels of elderly poverty induce nonretirees to establish their pension policy preferences based on a principle of broad reciprocity. First, in a context of high elderly poverty, nonretirees react to the demand for reciprocity by their impoverished elderly parents by supporting improvements in public pension protection. Second, in the same context, due to perceptions of retirees as highly deserving of public support, nonretirees feel more compelled to demand more public pension protection that improves the economic wellbeing of retirees. The results are consistent with this expectation. Using a sample of 30 OECD country years and multilevel models, countries with higher levels of elderly poverty present smaller retiree/nonretiree divides in support of public pension provision and pension spending increases.