Micro-foundations of Welfare Restructuring in East Asia: Pension Reforms in Comparative Perspective

Prof. Shih-Jiunn Shi
Prof. Chung-Yang Yeh

East Asian social policy (EASP) scholarship has been focusing on the dynamics of welfare expansion, primarily driven by democratization that led the governments to establish new programmes or broaden the existing ones in response to the needs of marginalized social groups. However, arguments based on the facilitative role of democratization in welfare state developments of the 1990s gradually reach their limit in explaining the current state of EASP which is undergoing institutional changes. This paper highlights the need to shift attention to the changing social politics in terms of welfare attitudes generated by the given institutions. Pension reforms of three East Asian welfare states are taken as the prime example: We expect different patterns of welfare attitudes towards pensions shaped by the past institutional reforms and policy legacies. Japan, a mature public pension system, features social cleavages between beneficiaries (the elderly people) and contributors (younger population). In Korea, the politics of dualisation is found: non-regular workers show more positive preferences for increasing pension expenditures than their counterpart, the core-sector workers. Meanwhile, Taiwan’s pension politics is clearly a class-related issue, in which the disadvantaged social groups support increase in public old-age security. Based on this heuristic typology, we use the 2006 and 2016 ISSP datasets in an attempt to recognize the specific policy feedbacks of the respective pension institutions on the divide in attitudes towards pensions, along with the diverse constellations associated with the impacts of the existing institutional settings. These findings offer a preliminary template for understanding the changing dynamics of pension reforms in EASP.