September 2020

IZA DP No. 13675: Redistribution and Insurance in Welfare States around the World

Charlotte Bartels, Dirk Neumann

Redistribution across individuals in a one-year-period framework is an empirically intensely studied question. However, a substantial share of annual redistribution might turn out to serve individual insurance in a longer perspective, reducing the level of actual redistribution across individuals. This paper investigates to what extent long-run redistribution diverges from annual redistribution in welfare states of different types. Exploiting panel data from the Cross-National Equivalent File (CNEF) for Australia, Germany, South Korea, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States, we find that welfare states like Germany that are assumed to engage in a high level of redistribution actually achieve relatively less redistribution between individuals in the long run than the United Kingdom or the United States. Regression results show that a higher share of elderly in a country is associated with more annual redistribution, but with less long-run redistribution between individuals. The results suggest that, in welfare states with aging populations, we might expect growing annual redistribution that, to a substantial extent, is in fact income smoothing for the elderly.