General support for lower retirement age

Compared with the 1990s, public opinion polls in recent years indicate that support for a lower retirement age has decreased among men and women. Nevertheless, Poles still tend to believe that women should retain the right to retire at an earlier age than men. Moreover, 2005 data reveal that a majority of those interviewed opposed the same retirement age for both sexes.

Retirement age: theory and practice

Under current regulations, the statutory retirement age is 65 years for men and 60 years for women. However, certain professional groups are entitled to early retirement schemes. Such privileges are mainly granted to employees performing jobs in hazardous working conditions. The main professions eligible for early retirement schemes under various legislative acts include teachers, miners, railway workers, police officers, soldiers and firefighters.

In general, Poland is characterised by a relatively low average exit age from the labour market, although this statistic has shown a rising trend in recent years. According to Eurostat data, as of 2005, the current average exit age is 59.5 years (compared with 56.6 years in 2001) – men leave the labour market at 62 years of age (57.8 in 2001) while women retire at 57.4 years (55.5 in 2001).

Since the end of the ‘baby boom’ years in the early 1980s, Poland’s demographic situation deteriorated throughout the 1990s due to the breakdown of the socialist welfare state and massive unemployment to which women have been particularly vulnerable. As a result, the birth rate declined steadily to hit its lowest level in 2003. At the same time, the post-war baby boom generation has begun to approach retirement age.

With the two factors combined, prospects for the public retirement system appear quite gloomy. As Poland’s public pensions system, operated by the state-administered Social Insurance Institution (Zakład Ubezpieczeń Społecznych, ZUS), is based on the intergenerational solidarity principle, its smooth functioning depends on the contributions of employers and workers to the system. In this respect, the pensions system will face growing difficulties in delivering the obligatory payments to its beneficiaries due to the increasingly unfavourable imbalance between those who are economically active and contribute to the system and older people who are the receivers. According to official forecasts by public statistics – provided that current demographic trends continue and the retirement age remains unchanged – 17% of the population will belong to the post-economic activity age bracket, namely women aged 60 years or over and men aged 65 years or older, by 2010. Over the following decades, the figure is expected to reach 23% of the population by 2020 and 27% by 2030.

Public opinion on retirement age

Nevertheless, public opinion does not seem to be alarmed by such negative forecasts. According to surveys executed in recent years by the Public Opinion Research Centre (Centrum Badania Opinii Społecznej, CBOS), a substantial number of Poles would rather retire at an earlier age, even at the expense of receiving lower benefits. Public opinion polls indicate support for a lower retirement age for women. However, acceptance is growing for prolonging professional activity in order to increase a person’s financial resources for their retirement years.

Age at which women and men should have the right to retire (%)
This table presents responses to public opinion polls relating to the age at which women and men should have the right to retire. In general, support for a lower retirement age has decreased over the years among both sexes.
  1999 2002 2003 2005
Women Men Women Men Women Men Women Men
55 years old or lower 85 34 52 11 70 18 67 22
60 years old 12 51 31 46 22 54 28 48
65 years old 1 13 9 34 3 23 2 26
Over 65 years old 1 1 0 1 0 1 0 1

Note: The data relates to representative random samples of individuals aged 18 years and over. The ‘no opinion’ answer is omitted.

Source: CBOS surveys 1999–2005

Poles opt for a low statutory retirement age but, at the same time, support the concept that the actual decision to leave the job market should be left to the discretion of each individual employee. Notably, a strong preference remains among members of the public for women to retire at an earlier age than men. In the 2005 survey, 80% of those interviewed opposed the idea of the same retirement age for both sexes. Only 17% of respondents were in favour of such a provision.

Commentary

Preferences to retire at a relatively young age and support for women’s right to retire earlier than men may prove difficult to implement in the coming years. Furthermore, as the first group of pensioners (women born in 1949) covered by the new two-tier pensions system – public pensions system combined with open retirement funds – will reach the retirement age in 2009, a new type of pension will begin to be paid. These pensions are likely to be lower than pensions sourced exclusively from the public pensions system. However, it remains to be seen how these new developments will influence public opinion.

References

Centrum Badania Opinii Społecznej (CBOS), Opinie o wieku emerytalnym kobiet i mężczyzn (in Polish, 89.9Kb PDF) [Opinions on the retirement age of women and men], Warsaw, November 1999.

Centrum Badania Opinii Społecznej (CBOS), Polacy o wieku emerytalnym kobiet i mężczyzn (in Polish, 83.6Kb PDF) [Poles on retirement age of women and men], Warsaw, April 2002.

Centrum Badania Opinii Społecznej (CBOS), Wiek emerytalny kobiet i mężczyzn (in Polish, 72.9Kb PDF) [Retirement age of women and men], Warsaw, December 2003.

Centrum Badania Opinii Społecznej (CBOS), O wieku emerytalnym kobiet i mężczyzn raz jeszcze (in Polish, 75.3Kb PDF) [On retirement age of women and men once again], Warsaw, December 2005.

Jan Czarzasty, Institute of Public Affairs

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