Elder & Wagner: Political Effects on Pension Underfunding


Pension underfunding in the public sector has received considerable attention recently and is often cited as the next looming crisis. The majority of recent research has focused on appropriately measuring the underfunding. In this paper, we employ a political economy framework to show that increases in partisan polarization and electoral uncertainty may both lead to greater underfunding. Using an unbalanced panel of individual pension plans, we find robust empirical evidence that higher legislative turnover rates, more electoral competition, and term limits all lead to more pension underfunding. This confirms that political environments play a pivotal role in pension underfunding.

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