Reforming Brazil’s old-age pension system to ensure its sustainability
By Jens Arnold, Head of Brazil Desk at the OECD Economics Department and Hervé Boulhol, Head of Pensions and Population Ageing at the OECD’s Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs
Pensions have been successful in reducing old-age poverty well below the population-wide average, and below the OECD average (Figure 1). At present, all pension recipients – and this includes around 90% of those aged 65 and above – receive at least the minimum wage, which is more than 5 times as much as the poverty line of BRL 170 (equivalent to USD 55).
However, Brazil’s old-age pension system already costs more than 10% of GDP, despite the country’s young – but rapidly ageing – population. The combined annual shortfall of the pension schemes is close to 4.5% of GDP, contributing substantially to the budget deficit. If the current parameters of the system remain unchanged, spending on pensions for private-sector workers alone would increase by almost 3% of GDP by 2030, and by almost 5% of GDP by 2040. Taking into account the public sector amplifies imbalances, which will make the system financially unsustainable. An in-depth reform is necessary and inevitable.
Several policy measures could contribute to containing pension expenditures. Raising Brazil’s low average retirement ages of 56 years for men and 53 years for women appears urgent, by introducing a binding minimum retirement age. Many OECD countries are now gradually moving their normal retirement ages beyond 65 years for men and women. In contrast to Brazil’s pension system, all public pension schemes in OECD countries include a minimum retirement age.
Brazil also stands out for high pension benefits relative to working-age incomes, in particular for low-wage earners, paid at low retirement ages (Figure 2). In the OECD, an average-wage full-career worker will get a pension paying 53% of pre-retirement earnings at the age of 65.5 years, compared to 70% for men and 53% for women in Brazil at age 55 and 50, respectively. Moreover, the minimum pension benefit is equal to the minimum wage, which has led to real increases in the minimum pension of almost 90% over the last 10 years. The minimum pension is available after 35 years of contribution or from age 65 after only 15 years of contribution.
OECD (2017). Pension Reform in Brazil. OECD Policy Memo, Paris: OECD, available at http://www.oecd.org/eco/surveys/reforming-brazil-pension-system-april-2017-oecd-policy-memo.pdf