Social Security: The Chilean Approach to Retirement

Source: Christopher Tamborini, Congressional Research Service, Order Code RL34006, May 17, 2007

Over the past few years, there has been intense debate about Social Security reform in the United States. A number of options, ranging from changing the benefit formula to adding individual accounts, has been discussed. The policy debate takes place against the backdrop of an aging population, rising longevity, and relatively low fertility rates, which pose long-range financial challenges to the Social Security system. According to the 2007 Social Security Trustees Report’s intermediate assumptions, the Social Security trust funds are projected to experience cash-flow deficits in 2017 and to become exhausted in 2041.

As policymakers consider how to address Social Security’s financing challenges, efforts of Social Security reform across the world have gained attention. One of the most oft-cited international cases of reform is Chile. Chile initiated sweeping retirement reforms in 1981 that replaced a state-run, pay-as-you-go defined benefit retirement system with a private, mandatory system of individual retirement accounts where benefits are dependent on the account balance. As a pioneer of individual retirement accounts, Chile has become a case study of pension reform around the world. Although Chile’s experience is not directly comparable to the situation in the United States because of large differences between the countries, knowledge of the case may be useful for American policymakers.

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