Gender Arrangements and Pension Systems in Britain and Germany : Tracing change over five decades

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Traute Meyer
Birgit Pfau-Effinger


This paper studies the modernisation of gender arrangements and the restructuring of pension systems in the United Kingdom and Germany since the 1950s. We firstly aim to pinpoint the time when pension programmes were apt components of the ’strong breadwinner model’. Secondly, we explore the assumption that pension systems are tools of stratification, by comparing the ways in which the constraints and incentives of these pension systems have been in line with typical life courses of women. Our paper argues that the constraints and incentives of pensions have altered quite significantly over time and questions whether they have appropriately been characterised as components of strong breadwinner models over the long term. In the UK the pension system only supported the strong breadwinner model until the mid-1970s, whilst the German system never fully supported it. In addition, it is shown that the impact of pensions on women’s behaviour is relatively limited. At times, women’s lives were in accordance with the male breadwinner model, and they suffered high poverty risks despite having potential access to a more modern pension regime; during other periods, their employment choices were at odds with the strong directives issued by pension regulations to stay at home. This demonstrates the importance of taking other factors, such as cultural influences and other societal institutions into account when exploring the impact of social policies on citizens’ lives; but it also poses the question of whether pensions are really important building blocks of the breadwinner model.


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