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Pension protection of first, second and subsequent generation(s) of immigrants in Belgium (MIGRAGE)

Research project TA/00/47 (Research action TA)


Persons :

  • Prof. dr.  BERGHMAN Jos - Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (K.U.Leuven)
    Coordinator of the project
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 1/4/2012-30/9/2015
  • Prof. dr.  MORTELMANS Dimitri - Universiteit Antwerpen (UA)
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 1/4/2012-30/9/2015
  • Dr.  NEELS Karel - Universiteit Antwerpen (UA)
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 1/4/2012-30/9/2015

Description :

Pension protection is high on the agenda. At a moment that population ageing exerts increasing pressure on the pension system, researchers and policy makers are alarmed by already existing inequalities between different groups in society. Differential social protection by ascriptive features (i.e. features present at birth) are seen as especially problematic and unjust. As a result, special attention has been given to gender as a discriminating variable: in a wide range of countries, women’s pension protection falls far below that of men. More recently, another ascriptive feature has drawn attention. The OECD, among others, points out that countries should distinguish in their unemployment statistics according to place of birth of individuals and their parents. However, in contrast to the United States, where so-called 'ethnic statistics' have a long tradition, such information gathering has only just started in Europe. Especially studies relating ethnic origin to pension protection are almost completely absent. Nonetheless ethnicity is likely to be an equally important discriminating variable as gender. For example, research by the OECD shows immigrants to have higher unemployment levels than non-immigrants. This is particularly true for Belgium where the difference between both groups is among the largest of all OECD-countries.

This project adds to research on the social and economic position of immigrants in Belgium by focusing on their pension benefits and pension build-up. It aims to describe and explain the differences in pension protection between immigrants and non-immigrants and between different groups of immigrants. Because the project focuses on the mechanisms explaining these differences, it necessarily deals with issues as labour market participation and family dynamics (family formation and household dynamics). In the Belgian pension system, labour market participation determines pension income directly or indirectly. Directly because every day worked leads to additional pension build-up; indirectly because work opens the right to pension credits for periods not worked (e.g. unemployment, maternity leave). In addition, it is possible to receive derived pensions on the basis of a (previous) marriage to a working spouse.

This research project advances previous research on labour market outcomes, family dynamics and pension protection by considering various subgroups of immigrants and by using large-scale register data. We distinguish subgroups on the basis of ethnic origin and of the migration history of individuals: e.g. whether immigration occurred in the context of family reunification or - more recently - family formation, whether the individual is a first generation immigrant or was born in Belgium (second or subsequent generation) and whether the person is a naturalized Belgian. Although all of these aspects are likely to influence the pension protection or pension build-up of immigrants, they have not been examined so far because of data limitations.

The project consists of two research phases. In a first phase, the analyses focus on how pension outcomes are linked to ascriptive characteristics. More specifically, the importance of interactions between gender and ethnic origin is examined. On the basis of intersectionality theory it is hypothesized that the influence of these various characteristics is not just additive but cumulative. In addition, the question is asked how these ascriptive features interact with acquired characteristics such as household type and – in particular for the subgroup of immigrants - features of their immigration histories. In a second phase this focus is expanded to include social origin and the examination of the intermediate mechanisms that link these ascriptive variables to pension outcomes. To that end, we adopt a life-course perspective that focuses on the (cumulative) effects of ascriptive characteristics on trajectories in labour force participation, migration history and family dynamics that in turn affect pension protection later in life.

In the light of ongoing population ageing, it is important to look beyond current problems in pension protection and to reveal expected future developments. For this reason, three birth cohorts will be examined: a first cohort of individuals aged 65 years or older in 2008 (born before 1944), a second cohort of individuals aged 31 to 64 years old in 2008 (born 1943-1977), and a third cohort of individuals aged 18 to 30 years old in 2008 (born 1978-1990). In this way, we can shed light on what is to be expected on the short-, mid- and long-term. Only for the oldest birth cohort is it possible to observe what they receive after pension age (research phase 1), while for the younger cohorts we need to focus on (partial) pension build-up (research phase 2).


Documentation :

On 14 January 2016, a round tabel discussion on the topic "interaction between the labour market and the Belgian Pension system" was organised at BELSPO. The results of 4 BELSPO-projects were presented and discussed with the Academic Council of the Pension Reform Commission 2020/2040

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