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pension, periodic payments to one who has retired from work because of age or disability. Pensions, originally thought of as charity, are now viewed as an essential part of the social responsibility of employers or of the state. In the Roman Empire there was a well-established pension system to care for soldiers who were disabled or had grown old. The French government early in the 19th cent. and then the British (1834) made provision for superannuated public servants.

In the United States pensions in various forms have been given to veterans of all wars since the Revolution; military pensions are now covered by the Servicemen's and Veterans' Survivor Benefits Act (1957). Retired servicemen and servicewomen receive, after 20 years of service, 50% of their base pay at time of retirement, with automatic increases as indicated by the Consumer Price Index. Civil-service pensions were developed later in the United States than in W Europe. Old-age pension plans were drawn up by cities for certain groups of public employees—firefighters, police officers, and teachers—which provided for compulsory contributions from the employee. Pensions for federal employees were authorized in 1920.

The idea of extending such protection to all citizens also appeared earlier in Europe (notably in Germany) than in the United States, where it was a 20th-century development (see social security). Many corporations and groups (such as labor unions, professional associations, and colleges) had made provision for pensions before the social security legislation was passed in 1935, and many groups now have pension plans that supplement social security.

Until the 1940s, pension plans in private industry were set up primarily on the initiative of the employer. As workers gained the right to submit pension plans to collective bargaining, the number of people covered in the United States by pensions grew from 4.1 million in 1940 to 65.6 million in 1999, about 44% of all workers. With more than $6.9 trillion in assets in 1997 (up from only $2.4 billion in 1940), these plans exert a major impact on the economy because the money is invested in stocks, bonds, and real estate. At the same time, the financial health of pension plans can be adversely affected by drops in the value of their investments, as happened after the late 1990s stock market bubble burst, or the bankruptcy of the employer. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (1974) established regulations to protect pensions from mismanagement and created a federal agency, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, to insure them. The Pension Protection Act (2006) was intended to strengthen pension plans.

During the 1990s there was a shift in the type of pension plan that employees were covered by. The number of people covered by defined benefit pension plans leveled off as companies attempted to reduce costs by forcing employees to contribute to their own plans, such as 401(k) plans (defined contribution plans), or by terminating the plans. Under a defined-contribution plan, contributions are made to an account for an individual employee, but no specific income is guaranteed at retirement. In a 401(k) plan, the most common type of defined contribution plan, income that would have been paid to the employee is deposited pretax in an account and invested; it may be matched to some degree by a contribution from the employer. Such plans also differ from traditional defined benefit plans in that the contributions are voluntary, and as a result employees are only covered if they choose to contribute to an account. Under such plans employees also may be allowed some degree of control over how the contributions are invested.


See R. Lynn, The Pension Crisis (1983); J. Matthews, Social Security, Medicare and Pensions (1988); R. L. Deaton, The Political Economy of Pensions (1989).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) In prerevolutionary Russia and in some foreign countries, the name for a private, occasionally government-sponsored, boarding school providing accommodations for the students.

(2) An obsolete name for a small hotel providing full accommodations to its guests.

(3) Provision of a lodger with full accommodations.



in the USSR, monetary support received by citizens from social consumption funds in old age and in cases of illness and disability. The right to pensions is established by the Constitution of the USSR. Pensions are also paid for prolonged meritorious service and in the case of loss of a breadwinner. They are given for past labor or socially useful activity and ordinarily serve as a permanent and basic source of the means of existence. In the case of loss of a breadwinner, pensions are given to the family as compensation for the labor and other socially useful activity of the deceased. The question of old-age and disability support for working people was always part of the program of the Communist Party. V. I. Lenin wrote that workers have the right to state pensions because “by their labor the workers maintain all the rich classes, and the whole state, and that gives them just as much right to pensions as government servants, who get pensions” (Poln. sobr. soch, 5th ed., vol. 7, p. 175).

State pension insurance for working people was instituted after the October Revolution of 1917. From the very first years of Soviet power, state pensions were awarded in cases of disability or loss of a breadwinner. Old-age pensions for workers in certain sectors of industry were introduced in 1928. They were later applied to all production workers, and by 1937 to office workers as well. The Law on State Pensions that was enacted in 1956 significantly raised the level of pension insurance and broadened the range of people who have the right to pensions. According to this law, pensions are given to production workers, clerical and professional employees, and other citizens covered by state social insurance. Enlisted men, sergeants, and first sergeants who are serving for a regular term are eligible for pensions, as are students at higher, secondary specialized, and other educational institutions. Other citizens may receive pensions if they became invalids as a result of performance of state or public duties or in carrying out the duty of a citizen of the USSR in saving human lives, protecting socialist property, or protecting the socialist legal order. Pensions for loss of a breadwinner may be given to members of the families of deceased citizens in the categories covered by the 1956 law. After passage of the Law on Pensions and Grants to Kolkhoz Members in 1964, a single system of pension insurance was formed that covered virtually all working people and members of their families.

In 1974 a total of 44 million people in the USSR were receiving pensions, and state expenditures for pensions totaled 20.7 billion rubles. As a group, pensioners break down into 60 percent production workers and clerical and professional employees, 30 percent kolkhoz members, and 10 percent former military servicemen. Basic to the Soviet system are the principles that pension insurance is guaranteed by the state without any deductions from workers’ earnings and that pensions are to be paid by state agencies from the capital in nationwide funds. Uniform eligibility rules have been established for receiving pensions in the event of old age, disability, or the loss of a breadwinner. The retirement age has been standardized, and so has the term of service required in order to receive a pension. The size of pensions is computed according to a uniform system, which is based on earnings but gives special advantages to low-paid categories of employees.

The rules and conditions for assigning and paying pensions are regulated by the Statute on Rules for Assigning and Paying State Pensions, which was ratified by an Aug. 3, 1972, decree of the Council of Ministers of the USSR (Collected Decrees of the USSR, 1972, no. 17, art. 86) with the amendments and supplements of Nov. 21, 1973 (Collected Decrees of the USSR, 1973, no. 25, art. 143). The pension system is also regulated by the Statute on Rules for Assigning and Paying State Pensions to Kolkhoz Members, ratified by an Oct. 17, 1964, decree of the Council of Ministers of the USSR (Collected Decrees of the USSR, 1964, no. 20, art. 128, with amendments and supplements) and by certain other normative acts.

Old-age pensions are awarded for life to production and office workers and kolkhoz members regardless of their ability to work. Men with at least 25 years’ work experience can retire with a pension at 60, and women with at least 20 years’ work experience can retire at 55. Old-age pensions are granted five years earlier but with the same work-experience requirement to military personnel who have become invalids as a result of wounds, concussions, or mutilation incurred in the defense of the USSR or performance of other military duties or as a result of an illness related to time spent at the front. A similar pension arrangement applies to persons who have worked at least 15 calendar years in the Far North regions or at least 20 calendar years in areas equivalent to the Far North. Women who have given birth to five or more children and raised them to the age of eight are also privileged to receive early pensions, qualifying for pensions at 50 if they have worked for at least 15 years.

Workers and employees in subsurface jobs, in jobs with dangerous working conditions, or in hot workshops as set forth in List No. 1 (a special list of production shops, occupations, and positions) also qualify for early pensions: men in these categories who have worked at least 20 years can receive pensions at 50, and women who have worked at least 15 years, at 45. Production and office workers in other jobs with difficult working conditions (defined by List No. 2) are granted pensions at 55 with at least 25 years’ work experience for men and at 50 with 20 years’ experience for women. Female employees of textile industry enterprises that are included on a special list receive pensions at 50 if they have at least 20 years’ work experience. For blind production and office workers pensions are granted at 50 to men with at least 15 years’ work experience and at 40 to women with at least ten years’ experience. For production and clerical office workers who are midgets, that is, victims of pituitary dwarfism, pensions are granted to men with at least 20 years’ work experience at 45 and to women with 15 years’ experience at 40.

The amount of the old-age pension is set at a percentage of the worker’s actual wages and ranges from 50 to 100 percent of earnings. In no case can the pension be less than 20 rubles per month for a kolkhoz member or 45 rubles for a production or office worker who meets the work-experience requirements. The maximum monthly pension is 120 rubles.

Additional allowances amounting to 10 percent of the pension are added to the old-age pension (within the limits of the maximum pension) for production and office workers with a continuous work record of more than 15 years or whose total work experience is at least ten years greater than the amount necessary to receive a pension. Nonworking pensioners who have dependents unable to work receive a 10-percent additional allowance for one dependent and a 15-percent additional allowance for two or more.

Existing legislation establishes a privileged position for working old-age pensioners. Certain categories of employees, including production workers, medical attendants, nurses, and nonprofessional medical personnel, and certain workers in communications, receive a full old-age pension. All pensioners are permitted to work two months a year while continuing to receive a full pension in addition to wages. Pensions to kolkhoz members are paid in full regardless of the incomes received by the pensioners at the kolkhoz or their earnings at state agricultural enterprises.

Disability pensions are granted to production and office workers and kolkhoz members who have suffered a permanent or protracted loss of ability to work as a result of a work-related injury or illness or any other illness. Disability pensions based on occupational injury or illness are established without regard to length of service, and such pensions are larger than the disability pension for non-work-related illness. The length of total working time needed for a disability pension depends on the age of the worker at the time of application for the pension and on the sex of the worker; for production and office workers it depends on working conditions as well. Pension amounts are set in accordance with the cause of the disability, the disability group, the job performed by the worker, and the worker’s total earnings.

Additional allowances of 10 percent are added to disability pensions (within the limits of the maximum pension) granted to production and office workers who are invalids of the first and second disability groups as a consequence of non-work-related illness and who have achieved a work record of from ten to 15 years’ continuous employment. Workers in these groups who have more than 15 years of continuous service receive supplements of 15 percent. Nonworking invalids of the first and second groups with dependents who are unable to work receive 10 rubles per month for one dependent and 20 rubles for two, regardless of the cause of disability. Invalids of the first group with three or more dependents who are unable to work receive a monthly pension supplement of 30 rubles. They also receive a supplement of 15 rubles a month for nursing care, regardless of the cause of disability.

In the case of loss of a breadwinner in the family of a production or clerical worker or kolkhoz member, dependents who are unable to work receive a pension if the breadwinner dies or is officially missing. In such cases, children, brothers, sisters, and grandchildren of the deceased who are under the age of 16 (18 for students) are considered as family members who may be classed as dependents. Brothers, sisters, and grandchildren of the deceased are eligible for pension benefits if they do not have able-bodied parents; the father, mother, and spouse, if they are aged or invalids (invalids of the first and second groups for the members of a kolkhoz member’s family). Nondependent children, as well as parents who are unable to work but were not dependents of the deceased, have the right to a pension if they later lose the source of their means of existence. Pensions are granted to the families of production and office workers and kolkhoz members who had died as a result of a work-related injury or illness and to the families of deceased pensioners regardless of the length of service of the breadwinner. Pensions are granted to the families of persons who had died as a result of a non-work-related illness or injury on the condition that on the day of death the breadwinner had fulfilled the term of work required for a disability pension. In families with two dependents who are unable to work, the pension in case of loss of a breadwinner is 90 to 100 percent of the amount of the old-age pension computed as a percentage of the breadwinner’s earnings; in families with three or more members unable to work, it is 100 to 110 percent of the amount of the old-age pension.

Families with three or more dependents that have lost a breadwinner who was a production worker or clerical or professional employee are eligible for a pension supplement of 15 percent (within the limits of the maximum pension) in cases where death resulted from a work-related injury or illness. An additional allowance of 10 percent is added to the pension of families whose breadwinner had a work record of from ten to 15 years’ continuous service and died from a non-work-related illness; if the period of continuous service was more than 15 years, the allowance is 15 percent. One general pension is awarded for all eligible family members in the event of the loss of a breadwinner.

A production or office worker who has not worked the term required for a full pension may be granted a pension for an incomplete term of work in an amount proportional to work experience but not less than one-quarter of the full pension. In the event of the worker’s death, the pension may go to his family. When such a pension is granted, no privileges associated with age, work experience, or pension amount are included, and no allowances are added.

Prolonged meritorious service pensions are ordinarily granted to workers in education and public health, flight personnel in civil aviation, and certain categories of performers in theaters and other entertainment enterprises regardless of age and ability to work. To establish such a pension, a definite period of work in positions listed in the decrees of the Council of Ministers of the USSR that regulate the rules and conditions for granting these pensions is necessary. Special rules were established concerning pension support for research workers by a decree of the Council of Ministers of the USSR of Sept. 28, 1949.

Personal pensions are established for persons who have made special contributions to the state through revolutionary activities, state and public service, and service to the economy. They may also be provided for outstanding contributions to culture, science, and technology. In case of the death of a person who has merited a personal pension, the pension may be granted to members of his family. All-Union, republic, and local personal pensions may be provided, depending on the services rendered. Personal pensioners receive certain stipulated privileges, including exemption from payment of 50 percent of their rental, heat, and utilities costs, an 80-percent discount on medicines and free prostheses.

Pensions are administered by agencies of the ministries of social security of the Union republics. They are awarded by commissions consisting of representatives of local government agencies and representatives of trade union bodies (where pensions for production and office workers are concerned) or of the kolkhozes (when granting pensions to kolkhoz members). Pensions to officers of the Soviet Army and Navy are awarded by agencies of the Ministry of Defense of the USSR and are based on military rank and term of service. Citizens who have the right to more than one pension from the same agency or to pensions from different agencies are granted a single pension of their choice. Pensions are not taxed.

Pension insurance for working people has been instituted in all other socialist countries, with differences that reflect specific features of each country’s historical development and varying levels of economic development. In most of the socialist countries the retirement-pension age is 60 for men and 55 for women.

Agreements on cooperation in the field of social security have been concluded between the USSR and some other socialist countries; these agreements regulate such matters as the granting and payment of pensions.

In the capitalist countries pensions represent a return of part of the worker’s wages that have been deducted for this purpose directly, in the form of pension-insurance payments, and indirectly, in the form of payments by the employer. Improvements in the system of pension insurance are usually accompanied by a rise in workers’ payments, as has been the case in Great Britain, the United States, and France. There are numerous restrictions on pension insurance, including a high retirement age (generally 65 for men and 60 for women) and the provision of disability pensions usually only to those completely unable to work. Other problems include the small size of pensions, the imposition of probationary periods before pension-insurance and other payments are made, the ineligibility for pensions of workers in agriculture and small enterprises, and the workers’ lack of control over the management of pension systems.

There are three state systems of pension insurance in the capitalist countries: social insurance, universal pensions, and public assistance. These systems are ordinarily used in varying combinations in each country. The social insurance system is the most comprehensive, and the institution of this system has been one of the chief demands of the workers’ movement. The form in which social insurance presently exists in the capitalist countries does not, however, meet these demands, because pension funds are chiefly formed from deductions from the worker’s own wages.

The universal pension system has been instituted in just seven countries: Canada, New Zealand, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden. Under this system, a special tax is collected from all inhabitants between the ages of 16–18 and 62–65. The state contributes certain amounts to the insurance funds. Employers do not make insurance payments for employees, but in some cases a certain part of the enterprise’s profit is deducted to pay pensions.

Systems based on the principle of public assistance have been instituted in Australia, partially in New Zealand, and elsewhere. Public assistance pension funds are formed entirely from general tax revenues. Although the entire population is formally eligible for these benefits, public assistance is received in fact only by those whose weekly income is below a certain level, and then only after a humiliating verification procedure. In addition to general state pension systems, almost all capitalist countries have pension systems for certain categories of the population, such as state clerical and professional employees, railroad workers, seamen, miners, farmers, and artisans.

The isolated measures to improve pension insurance for the working people in the capitalist countries—usually implemented with the workers’ own funds—do not resolve the critical problem of support in case of old age or illness. The establishment in some countries of private pension plans that are supported by individual organizations, associations, and enterprises is purely charitable and is not backed by any guarantees. For the working people, improvement in pension insurance is one of the chief aims of class struggle. To some extent, the development of pension legislation in the capitalist countries is tied to the objective needs of the capitalist system and the necessity for a stable work force, for preservation and enlargement of profit, and for other factors. However, the adoption of these laws, a certain broadening of the range of persons who receive pensions, and the institution in a number of cases of pension supplements for families are all primarily the result of the struggle of the working class and other working people for their social and economic rights. Moreover, all of these measures can be considered defensive actions aimed at neutralizing the working class and attenuating the class struggle under conditions of state-monopoly capitalism.


Sotsial’noe obespechenie i strakhovanie v SSSR. Moscow, 1972.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. a regular payment made by the state to people over a certain age to enable them to subsist without having to work
2. a regular payment made by an employer to former employees after they retire
3. a regular payment made to a retired person as the result of his or her contributions to a personal pension scheme
4. any regular payment made on charitable grounds, by way of patronage, or in recognition of merit, service, etc.
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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