Pieter Vanhuysse and Achim Goerres, Eds.: Ageing Populations in Post Industrial Democracies: Comparative Studies of Policies and Politics

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Pieter Vanhuysse and Achim Goerres, eds., Ageing Populations in Post-Industrial Democracies: Comparative studies of policies and politics. London and New York: Routledge, 2012, 272 pp. $135.50 hardcover (978-0415603829)

We are living in the midst of change. Population ageing and economic challenges are putting great pressure on governments today. The current state of our global world creates somewhat unique circumstances to address these challenges that are experienced by many developed countries. This review of Ageing Populations in Post-Industrial Democracies, an edited book by Pieter Vanhuysse and Achim Goerres, praises the attempts made to understand these changes in the political arena. Below I describe the central findings and arguments, as well as note strengths and weaknesses.

Ageing Populations in Post-Industrial Democracies aims to understand and explain how the political and policy responses will be or are structured in relation to population ageing. It includes 11 comparative essays of two to 31 OECD countries, written by 12 European and American scholars. Pieter Vanhuysse and Achim Goerres open this collection by mapping the field of generational politics and policies among 30 OECD countries. Vanhuysse and Goerres argue that while demographic trends among these countries are universal, their respective welfare states are heterogeneous. The subsequent essays in this book tease out similarities and differences using a variety of research methods, both quantitative and qualitative.

The increasingly large proportion of older people in democratic societies potentially makes them a powerful group in the political domain. In Chapter 2, Sean Hanley studies this phenomenon by examining the success of pensioners' parties over the past two decades in 31 Western and Central Eastern European countries. Pensioners' parties lack political presence in Canada and the United States, and hence, these countries are not included. Canadian and American readers may be confused as to what these parties are until they read Hanley's overview of the development of pensioners' parties in Europe over the past few decades. Using qualitative comparative analysis methods, relative success is present in Western and Central Eastern countries that spent a high proportion of welfare on pensions and have adequate levels of self-organization among the old. Additional contributing factors varied between Western and Central Eastern countries that reflect their institutional political contexts.

Another gauge of gray political power is whether mainstream parties court older voters. Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba examines this influence in Chapter 3 through a textual analysis of party manifestos and media messages, as well as labor policies in Japan, Germany, and Italy--countries with some of the highest proportions of older persons in the world. Findings contrast the elderly power hypothesis because political parties across the left-right wing spectrum demonstrate a willingness to be unfavorable towards older individuals in these countries, albeit in different ways. Sciubba argues that in the context of globalization, political parties and policy makers experience greater pressure from economic challenges than from their large older electorate. This argument is also supported in Chapter 4 with respect to the implementation of an unpopular reform among voters.

In Chapter 4, Martin Hering examines how Germany and the United Kingdom, two countries with different political contexts, successfully implemented recent reforms to increase retirement ages. Hering argues this similar outcome had three conditions: An expert commission first raised intergenerational equity issues to the government and pushed for an increase in retirement ages, policy makers were concerned with curbing the rising spending on pensions as well as protecting low-income earners, and a coalition was formed among political parties as a blame avoiding strategy. …