Preferences for Redistribution and Pensions: What can We Learn from Experiments?

47 Pages Posted: 17 Aug 2010

See all articles by Franziska Tausch

Franziska Tausch

Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods

Johannes (Jan) J. M. Potters

Tilburg University - CentER

Arno Riedl

Maastricht University; IZA Institute of Labor Economics; CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute); Netspar

Multiple version iconThere are 3 versions of this paper

Date Written: January 2011


Redistribution is an inevitable feature of collective pension schemes. It is still largely an open question what people‘s preferences are regarding redistribution - both through pensions schemes as well as more generally. It would seem that economists have little to say about this question, as they routinely assume that people are predominantly selfish. Economic experiments have revealed, however, that most people do in fact have redistributional preferences that are not merely inspired by self-interest. This paper reviews this experimental evidence. For that purpose we distinguish between three fundamentally different types of situations. The first deals with distributional preferences behind a veil of ignorance. What type of income distribution do people prefer when they do not know whether they will end up in an advantaged or disadvantaged position? A main result here is that, contrary to what John Rawls suggested, people do not prefer the maximin rule, but rather favor a utilitarian justice concept appended with a safety net for the poorest. Another result is that people are willing to accept income inequalities - as long as these are due to choices for which people can be held accountable. In the second type of situation, individuals make choices in front of the veil of ignorance and know their position. Experiments show that preferences for redistribution are strongly dependent on a person‘s own position. People in a relatively disadvantaged position want more redistribution than those in a relatively advantaged position, which shows that preferences for redistribution are clearly affected by self-interest. Still, even many of those in an advantaged position display a preference for redistribution. This holds, in particular, if inequality is due to chance rather than effort. There are also significant differences in preferences between the genders and between people with different political orientations. Finally, we discuss situations in which income is determined by interdependent rather than individual choices. People are dependent upon the cooperation of others for the achievement of their (income) goals. Experiments show that behavioral factors such as trust and reciprocity play a crucial role, and they also indicate that these factors are strongly affected by the institutional setting. In the closing parts of the paper we discuss whether and how these experimental results speak to the redistribution issues of pensions. For example, do they argue for or against mandatory participation? Should we have less redistribution and more actuarial fairness? How does this depend on the type of redistribution involved?

Keywords: redistribution, fairness, pension, insurance, experiment

JEL Classification: C90, D01, D03, D63, D64, H55

Suggested Citation

Tausch, Franziska and Potters, Johannes (Jan) J. M. and Riedl, Arno M., Preferences for Redistribution and Pensions: What can We Learn from Experiments? (January 2011). CESifo Working Paper Series No. 3156, Available at SSRN:

Franziska Tausch

Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods ( email )

Kurt-Schumacher-Str. 10
D-53113 Bonn, 53113

Johannes (Jan) J. M. Potters

Tilburg University - CentER ( email )

Department of Economics
P.O. Box 90153
5000 LE Tilburg
+31 13 466 8204 (Phone)
+31 13 466 3042 (Fax)

Arno M. Riedl (Contact Author)

Maastricht University ( email )

Department of Microeconomics & Public Economics
P.O. Box 616
Maastricht, 6200 MD


IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072

CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Poschinger Str. 5
Munich, DE-81679

Netspar ( email )

P.O. Box 90153
Tilburg, 5000 LE

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics