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Population Aging and Comparative Public Policy

The third theme of my research encompasses population aging and comparative public policy. Population aging increases critical issues related to the abilities of governments and families to provide adequate resources and opportunities for individuals to maintain well-being levels throughout the life course and particularly at later life. Countries are responding to these challenges by enacting a number of reforms, such as introducing mandatory individual retirement accounts, prioritizing an expansion in explicit health guarantees and benefits packages, creating national aging services, and updating their official statistics to include emerging issues. Therefore, it is important to examine the effectiveness of these policy efforts and other alternatives in meeting the needs of older adults and promoting societies that age positively. The aim of my research in this area is to improve our understanding of the challenges and opportunities posed by demographic change to aging-related policy throughout the world.


My key publications in this area focus on changes within and between countries, and cover a wide range of policies, emphasizing the political economy in the reform of old-age pensions, national aging services, health and mental health policies, and the measurement of well-being. In this thread of research I have relied on a mixed methods approach, combining quantitative research with comparative historical methods, archival research, and interview techniques.


I have devoted special attention to old-age social security reforms around the world, finding that individualization and redistribution are two distinct sources of variation in pension policy, especially outside OECD countries. My results also show that numerous Western countries first experienced cultural rationalization, followed by economic modernization, and only then faced the challenges of population aging and policy reform. In contrast, both Latin America and China are dealing with these challenges in the context of much less developed economies and stronger traditional cultures. My results highlight the link between the cultural and material characteristics common to Latin America and China and argue that these distinctive characteristics have important implications for the likely success of policy reforms. A common theme of my findings is preventing from rigid policy prescriptions and silver bullet type of solutions, whereas in social security, health policy, or other intervention efforts. When highlighting lessons of what worked and what not, my results consistently highlight the contextual specificity of reform and intervention efforts. This is a crucial message if we want to craft solutions that work in practice, not just in theory.


My current projects focus on good practices and pitfalls in measuring and reporting subjective well-being data for policy and practice purposes. I am fond of new measurement and visualization methods using radial graphs to draw subjective well-being levels and present friendly results. At the same time, I am critical of over simplistic approaches to the measurement and reporting of subjective well-being, such as happiness rankings that overlook measurement uncertainty and typically exacerbate differences between units. In the near future I plan to explore policy enactment and diffusion of ideas, with particular attention to fully-funded individual retirement accounts and universalization of health coverage. In the long-term, my plan is to connect back policy enactment with my other research areas and explore the health and well-being consequences of these policies.