Are Swiss women privileged in Europe?

The Pension Reform 2020 package would align the retirement ages of women and men at 65 years by 2021. william87/123RF

The increase in the retirement age for women from 64 to 65 is one of the most controversial issues in the overhaul of the Swiss old age security system, which is due to be put to a national vote on September 24. Swiss women are among the few in Europe who are entitled collect a pension before men.

This content was published on September 12, 2017 - 16:00

Switzerland has never been in the vanguard of nations when it comes to the rights of women or equality of the sexes. Women only got the vote and the right to hold political office in 1971, after the rest of Europe. Switzerland was the last European country to introduce the right to maternity benefits in 2005. Women in this country still lag behind in pay, for they earn on average over 18% less than men.

Regarding pension rights, however, Swiss women actually enjoy an advantage, since the legal age of retirement is 64 for women and 65 for men. Moreover, life expectancy for women is 85 compared to 81 for men.

European reforms

Of the 28 member states of the European Union, only eight still maintain a difference in retirement age between the sexes. The most generous in this regard is Austria, where women have a right to full benefits at 60, while men have to wait until age 65. However, the eight countries mentioned (except for Romania) have already introduced new legislation to equalise the retirement age – some within a few years, and others by 2040.

It turns out that, with a retirement age of 64, Swiss women are actually at the European average. In 13 EU member states, the legal retirement age is higher, while in the other 15 it’s between 60 and 63. This situation is due to change in the next few years. Ageing populations and the recent economic and financial crisis have driven European governments to launch reform packages to shore up the funding of their old age security systems. Thus, almost all EU countries have already decided to set the pensionable age for women, as well as men, at 65–67. The exceptions here are France, Greece, the Czech Republic and Romania.

While most member states of the Union are thus aligning their pension schemes, a look at the world at large shows much greater variety in this regard. This variation is due not only to political choice or the social and economic situation of countries, but also to differences in the life expectancy of their populations. Yet internationally, there seems to be a general tendency for the retirement age for women – and men – to rise. 

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Workplace discrimination?

In Switzerland, the government and the majority in parliament intend to increase the retirement age for women from 64 to 65 as part of Pension Reform 2020 – a package that the nation will soon vote on. Harmonisation of  the retirement age for women and men will contribute to ensuring stable funding of the old age security system, lightening the burden on the country’s old age pension fund to the tune of CHF1.3 billion ($1.4 billion) a year.

This proposal is one of the features of the package that arouses the most vocal opposition, particularly from margins of the left and some smaller trade unions. From the perspective of these critics, the harmonisation is unjust, as women still suffer from discrimination in the workplace. Those championing the reform package say that other measures will offset the increase in the retirement age for women, such as an added CHF70 on the monthly old age pension cheque.

Do you think it right to make the retirement age for men and women the same? Feel free to take part in this discussion by leaving a comment. 

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