Reforming the Public Pension System in the Russian Federation

Contributor Notes

Author’s E-Mail Addresses:,,

Pension reform is a key policy challenge in Russia. This paper examines how pension spending could increase in Russia in the absence of reforms, quantifies the impact of some recent proposals, and suggests some alternatives that would ensure public pension benefits - relative to wages - not fall from current levels while containing spending.


Pension reform is a key policy challenge in Russia. This paper examines how pension spending could increase in Russia in the absence of reforms, quantifies the impact of some recent proposals, and suggests some alternatives that would ensure public pension benefits - relative to wages - not fall from current levels while containing spending.

I. Introduction

As in many other countries, public pension reform in Russia is a key policy challenge. To combat the effects of the global financial crisis on the economy in 2009–10, Russia undertook a large fiscal stimulus of about 9 percent of GDP, mainly comprised of permanent measures including an increase in pension benefits. Though some of the stimulus has now been withdrawn, the end-2011 nonoil deficit—which is a relevant measure of the fiscal stance in oil-producing countries, given the volatility of oil prices and nonrenewable nature of oil reserves—is still more than double the level considered consistent with equitable use of the oil wealth across generations (Gust and Zakharova, 2012) and should be reduced in coming years. This will be needed to avoid procyclical policies that fuel inflation and real appreciation—which undermine competitiveness and contribute to boom-bust cycles—as well as to reduce fiscal vulnerabilities (IMF, 2011a). Given that discretionary spending at the federal level is now only about one-third of total expenditures, durable fiscal consolidation will need to be underpinned by fundamental structural reforms, including in pensions and healthcare. At the same time, an aging population means reforms will be needed to contain future pension spending.

To ensure adequate public pensions while putting the pension system on a sustainable footing, several Russian experts and groups have put forward proposals to achieve these goals, including Strategy 2020 (2011), Dmitriev (2011), and Gurvich (2010), while the Ministry of Labor, in cooperation with the Pension Fund of Russia, federal government authorities and the expert community, is expected to present pension reform proposals to the government in October 2012 under the Strategy for Pension System Long-Term Development till 2050.1 This paper presents projections of pension spending as a share of GDP in the absence of reforms, the impact of some of the proposals to increase the pension age and reduce early retirement, and puts forward some alternative proposals.

The remainder of this paper is structured as follows. Section II presents an overview of the current Russian pension system, while Section III examines the common challenges many countries are facing with respect to pension reform and presents some international experiences on how other countries have handled these challenges. Section IV discusses the considerations that should guide pension reform, assesses some of the recent reform proposals put forward in Russia, and discusses further reforms that could address remaining pension spending pressures consistent with fiscal consolidation needs, the implications for equity, the functioning of labor markets, and economic growth.

II. Russia’s Current Pension System

Russia’s current pension system was introduced in 2002.2 Prior to 2010, the system had three components: a basic pension, an insurance benefit based on a notional defined contribution account, and a funded defined contribution scheme (available only to individuals born after 1967). After 2010, the basic pillar has been folded into the pay-as-you-go portion of pensions. In addition to old-age labor pensions, disability and survivor labor pensions are also part of the system. This paper focuses mainly on old-age labor pensions. Table 1 provides a description of the key parameters of each pillar:

Table 1.

Key Parameters of the Russian Pension System

article image
Sources: World Bank, Ministry of Health and Social Development, and Pension Fund of Russia.
  • The basic pension is a flat amount provided to all those reaching retirement age (age 60 for men, and age 55 for women) with a minimum contribution record of 5 years. Most current elderly fall within this group, so coverage among the elderly is virtually complete. While the basic pension is supposed to be uniform, higher levels are granted to pensioners in a variety of categories, including to all those who reach the age of 80 and above, those who are invalid with limited working capacity, those who are caring for a dependent family member, and those who live or have worked in Arctic regions. Indexation rules are complex. As of 2010, the basic pension is indexed the same way as the insurance portion, i.e., annually to average wages, but limited to the annual growth of the Pension Fund of Russia’s (PFR) income, expressed per pensioner. There is also the possibility of preventive (advance) indexing during the year if inflation exceeds 6 percent (see Ministry of Health and Social Development of the Russian Federation (2010) for further details). Increases outside of this formula were legislated in 2009 and 2010.3 As of 2010, the basic pension was about 12 percent of the average wage.

  • The labor insurance component is a notional defined contribution pension. This is a pay-as-you-go scheme that includes old-age, disability, and survivors benefits. Contributions to individual accounts are not invested in financial assets. Instead, these contributions are recorded in a notional individual account by the PFR. These accounts earn a “notional” return set by law—currently the return is the average wage growth, but limited to the growth rate of pension contributions per pensioner. Between annual indexations on April 1, pensions can be indexed to inflation (if it exceeds 6 percent) to avoid a sharp drop in purchasing power during the year. When the individual retires, the amount in the account is divided by 216 (18 years of benefits) to get the monthly pension and this conversion factor is scheduled to increase to 228 (19 years) by 2013. Typically, notional account balances are divided by the life expectancy in months at the age of claiming, which provides some automatic fiscal adjustment as life expectancies rise in the long run. However, this automatic feature has been disabled in the Russian context by the use of fixed conversion factors.

  • The third component is a funded defined contribution system, where individuals contribute to pension fund accounts which are invested by public or private asset managers. Under the default option, individuals keep the account in the RPF to be managed by a state financial institution—about 85 percent of contributors and assets are currently in the default option (Rudolph and Holtzer, 2010).4 However, individuals can opt-out of the default by choosing a private asset manager or by transferring the account to a private pension fund.5 Upon retirement, the individuals receive both the contributions and the investment returns earned on those contributions in the form of a lifetime annuity.

  • The pension system also pays state pensions (including early pensions to civil servants and military personnel, disability social pensions, and social pensions for people older than the retirement age who are not entitled to other pensions) and offers monthly allowances to certain categories of citizens, including veterans, the disabled, and persons affected by radiation exposure.6 In addition, the PFR funds a benefit top-up which increases pensions to the “subsistence minimum level” (about 20 percent of the average wage, varying by region). If the regional subsistence level is higher than the federal level, the difference is covered from the regional budget. These top-ups, both from the PFR and the regions, are not a major source of spending—together they amounted to only 0.3 percent of GDP in 2010.

  • The system is funded by payroll contributions and transfers from the Federal budget. The contribution rate is 22 percent of wages up to an annual cap set at about 165 percent of the average wage (512,000 rubles). Of this contribution, 6 percent of wages is diverted to the funded defined contribution component for younger individuals. In addition, earnings above the annual cap pay a 10 percent tax rate to finance basic pensions.

One important characteristic of the Russian pension system is its relatively early statutory retirement age.7 Men can claim a full old-age labor pension at age 60 and women at age 55—this contrasts with an average retirement age of 64 for men and 63 for women in the advanced economies and 61 for men and 58 for women in the emerging world (IMF, 2011). Furthermore, many individuals retire even earlier: the average effective retirement age in Russia is estimated to be in the range of 52–54 for women and 54–58 for men (Dmitriev (2012), Gurvich, and Sonina (2012)). This largely explains why nearly 30 percent of pensioners retire before the statutory retirement age (Table 2).8

Table 2.

Pension Spending and Characteristics of the Russian Pension System, 2000–10

article image
Source: ROSSTAT, UN, and IMF staff calculations.

This large number of early retirees is also explained by a complicated system under which early pensions are provided to insured persons based on working conditions, work environment factors and regional living conditions.9 For example, early pensions are available to citizens who have a work record in Arctic regions; mothers with five or more children or disabled children; unemployed males at the age of 58–59 and unemployed females of 53–54; men with at least 10 years in hazardous employment and females with at least 7½ years (hazardous employment include a long list of occupations, including miners, geologists, and seamen). Furthermore, there is no minimum retirement age for teachers with 25 years of work with children, health workers with 30 years in urban and 25 years in rural medical institutions, professional ballet dancers, and some other artists.

Overall, total spending on pensions and allowances add up to about 9 percent of GDP (Table 2). About 30 percent of this spending is devoted to the basic pension, 60 percent to the insurance component and 10 percent to allowances. Importantly, allowances were expanded in 2005—from under 0.3 percent to about 1 percent of GDP, as part of the monetization of benefits (i.e., they replaced a portion of non-monetary subsidies). The trend in pension spending also shows a large increase (about 3½ percentage points of GDP) over the past two years. This increase in spending reflects measures that substantially increased the generosity of the system: pensions and allowances increased relative to the average wage from 27½ percent in 2007 to 40 percent in 2010. However, taking into account the recent increases in spending and reductions in contribution rates, Russia is near international averages along these two dimensions (Figure 1).10

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

Contribution Rates and Replacement Rates, 2010 Contribution Rate

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2012, 201; 10.5089/9781475505511.001.A001

Source: OECD (2011) and IMF (2011b).Note: contribution rates refer to the nominal contribution rates that apply to the pensionable base.

III. Challenges from Aging Populations

A. Common Challenges

The key challenges facing Russia are how to ensure adequate incomes in retirement and reasonable funding burdens while maintaining long-term sustainability of the pension system and sufficient flexibility in the system to adapt to the evolving economic and demographic environment.

As in other advanced and emerging economies, Russia is facing a demographic challenge:

  • Life expectancy at age 60 years in Russia is lower than in several other countries—the gap to the best performing country in emerging Europe (Poland) is 3.3 years for females and 2.2 years for males (Figure 2). However, life expectancy is projected to rise by nearly 4 years over 2010–2050, as rapid as in other countries. Furthermore, there is the possibility of more rapid convergence in light of the high economic growth expected over the next few decades (under the baseline projections from the UN, the life expectancy gap between Russia and the averages from Eastern Europe or advanced economies remain roughly unchanged over time).

  • Fertility rates are projected to remain low over the coming decades. Fertility rates (children per woman) in Russia over 2005–2010 stood at around 1.4, similar to that in the majority of other eastern European countries. Although fertility rates across Eastern Europe are projected to increase to nearly 1.8 children per woman by mid century, they will remain significantly below the natural replacement rate of 2.1.

  • These projected increases in longevity combined with relatively low fertility rates explain the aging of the Russian population in the coming decades—the old-age dependency ratio (the ratio of the population 65 and older to the working age population) is projected to nearly double from around 18 percent to 36 percent between 2010 and 2050. This implies that the population will age at about the same pace of the advanced economies for which old age dependency ratios increase from about 23 percent in 2010 to 46 percent.

Figure 2.
Figure 2.

Demographic Trends, 2010–30

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2012, 201; 10.5089/9781475505511.001.A001

Source: UN and IMF staff calculations.

At nearly 9 percent of GDP, Russia looks similar to emerging Europe and advanced economies in terms of the current level of pension spending (Figure 3). These regions spend substantially more than emerging economies outside Europe. In the latter group, this reflects relatively low pension coverage—only about one quarter of the elderly receive public pensions in emerging Asia and 60 percent in Latin America compared to nearly universal coverage in Emerging Europe and the advanced economies—and younger populations.

Figure 3.
Figure 3.

Public Pension Spending, 2010

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2012, 201; 10.5089/9781475505511.001.A001

Source: IMF (2011b).

Russia, however, devotes a relatively large share of its budget to finance public pensions. Pensions are about 23 percent of general government primary spending in Russia, just at about the emerging Europe average, compared to 20 percent in the advanced economies and only 13 percent in emerging economies outside of Europe. This might make Russian public finances more vulnerable to demographic pressures than in other countries.

B. The Impact of Aging on Pension Spending

To project pension spending over 2010–50, this paper uses an identity that decomposes public pension expenditure as a share of GDP (PE/GDP) into four main drivers: aging (measured by the old age dependency ratio); eligibility rates (the number of pensioners as a proportion of the population 65 and older); replacement rates (the ratio of average pension to average wages); and labor force participation rates (See Appendix 1 for more details):


Using this identity, it is possible to calculate the change in pension spending as a share of GDP between two years (t1 and t2). For any year t, let O(t) be the old-age dependency ratio, E(t) be the pensioners’ ratio, G(t) be replacement rate, and L(t) be the inverse of the employment ratio. Assuming a constant total compensation share in GDP over time, then PEGDP(t2)=PEGDP(t1)*0(t2)*E(t2)*G(t2)*L(t2)0(t2)*E(t1)*G(t1)*L(t1). For example, according to this identity, everything else equal, a doubling in any of the factors will double the share of pension spending in GDP.

For Russia, the baseline scenario assumes that the replacement rate will remain at its current level for the foreseeable future. In fact, the recent increases in the replacement rate of public pension system to about 40 percent of wages is consistent with earlier announcements to bring pensions to this level and maintain them there in the future.11 Under this assumption, pension spending is projected to increase from 9 percent of GDP in 2010 to 12 percent in 2030 and 16 percent in 2050 (Figure 4). The cumulative cost of this projected increase is large: the present discounted value of increases in pension spending over 2010–50 is about [105] percent of 2010 GDP.

Figure 4.
Figure 4.

Projected Public Pension Spending in Russia, 2010–50

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2012, 201; 10.5089/9781475505511.001.A001

Source: IMF Staff calculations.Note: The baseline assumes a constant replacement rate of about 40 percent of wages.

The magnitude of this projected increase contrasts with the expected trends in the rest of emerging Europe, where average public pension spending is projected to remain stable at about 9 percent of GDP until 2030 and increase to only 11 percent of GDP by 2050. Projected increases are also more moderate in advanced economies, where spending is projected to increase from 8 percent of GDP in 2010 to 11 percent in 2050. These lower increases in spending in other countries largely reflect the impact of enacted reforms (Box 1).

What Have Other Countries Done?1

Many advanced and emerging economies have reformed their pension systems over the past two decades. These reforms are projected to substantially reduce the impact of aging on public pension spending. Past reforms to public pension schemes have generally focused on reducing replacement rates, tightening eligibility and increasing incentives for older individuals to remain in the labor market:


Public Pension Spending, 2010–2050

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2012, 201; 10.5089/9781475505511.001.A001

  • Reform measures that reduce replacement rates include lowering accrual rates (Greece, Korea), extending the reference period for the base to calculate pensions (Finland, France, Greece, Portugal, Spain), introducing built-in sustainability factors (Germany) or automatic changes in the pension formula such as through notional returns (Austria, Italy, Sweden);

  • Eligibility has been tightened mainly through increases of the statutory age of retirement. Over coming decades, retirement ages will increase gradually to 65 years in Italy (including for women), Japan, and Turkey; to 67 years in Germany, Spain, and the United States; and to 68 years in Ireland and the United Kingdom. A few countries have linked future retirement ages to changes in longevity (Denmark, Italy, and Spain). France recently raised retirement ages by two years;

  • Enhancing the incentives for older workers to remain in the labor force has been achieved by tightening eligibility to early pensions (Greece abolished retirement before age 65 for those with fewer than 40 years of contributions or younger than age 60 in 2011) and making later retirement financially more attractive by moving to actuarially fair pension pay outs;

  • Moreover, most advanced economies or regions have introduced anti-age discrimination legislation (Australia, the European Union, New Zealand, and the United States), which could make it easier for older workers to remain in the labor force.

In emerging Europe, early reforms involved many policies similar to those seen in advanced economies, including equalizing male and female retirement ages (Estonia in 1998), reducing benefits (Poland in 1999), raising retirement ages (Hungary in 1992 and Lithuania in 1995), and reducing early-retirement benefits (Estonia in 1998). In addition, several countries introduced mandatory funded private pensions (including Estonia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania). The reforms varied across countries in terms of coverage (the cohorts for which the mandatory private schemes became mandatory) and speed of transition (the share of contributions channeled from the state scheme to the private funds). Recently, partly to deal with the fiscal consequences of the crisis, several countries redirected part of contributions back to the public system (Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland). In Hungary mandatory private pensions no longer play a role since the nationalization of pension fund assets. Moreover, further parametric reforms have been recently introduced, including further increases in retirement ages (Hungary), changes to indexation (Romania) and elimination of privileges (Romania).

1/ Source: IMF 2011b.

IV. Choices and Proposals

The cost of providing public pensions depends mainly on the number of pensioners and the size of the average benefit. To contain or offset projected pension spending, there are three main dimensions along which pension reform to a pay-as-you-go system can be undertaken:

  • Reducing the generosity of the system (i.e., the replacement rate);

  • Curtailing eligibility (i.e., reducing the number of people receiving a pension); and

  • Increasing revenues (i.e., by raising the contribution rates).

However, it is important that pension reforms do not undermine the ability of the public pension system to alleviate poverty among the elderly. Pension reforms should contribute to required fiscal consolidation efforts, address equity issues, and support economic growth (IMF, 2011b).

A. Reducing the Replacement Rates

Absent reforms, maintaining the current level of replacement rates would require substantial increases in public pension spending—from 9 percent of GDP in 2010 to 12 percent in 2030 and 16 percent in 2050 (the baseline scenario described above). One option to contain the growth of spending is to reduce benefits relative to average wages. In Russia, this would take place if the current law—which implies decreasing returns in the notional defined contribution component of pensions—was allowed to run its course and not overridden with ad-hoc adjustments. This decline would take place because the notional return on contributions in this component is capped at the growth rate of contributions per pensioner. As the ratio of retirees per worker increases, the growth rate of contributions per pensioner, and thus the return on contributions, is likely to decline. This could generate savings by lowering replacement rates. But the magnitude of the benefit cuts needed to stabilize spending would be substantial: to keep pension spending at its current level, replacement rates would have to decline from about 40 percent today to 28 percent in 2030 to 20 percent in 2050. However, although lower replacement rates remain a theoretical possibility to contain spending, and indeed could happen if the current pension system were left unchanged, recent experience in Russia—including ad-hoc adjustments—suggests that cuts of this magnitude are unlikely to take place and would be socially undesirable.

B. Reducing Pension Eligibility

One way to reduce the number of individuals eligible for pensions is to increase statutory retirement ages. This helps pension finances by increasing the years of contributions and reducing the number of years pensions are paid.12 In addition to its fiscal impact, there are other advantages to raising retirement ages: it would have a positive impact on economic growth by promoting higher employment levels; it would boost the growth of real consumption, even in the short; and it could help avoid even larger cuts in replacement rates (IMF, 2011b).

In Russia, the objections often raised to increasing retirement ages are the relatively frail health and low life expectancy of the elderly, particularly males.13 The argument is usually that it will be impossible for many to extend their working lives. However, The Ministry of Health and Social Development of the Russian Federation (2010) notes that more than 70 percent of the recipients of early old-age pensions who have not reached the universal retirement age continue to work—the majority of them at the same jobs. This suggests that the majority of the individuals who retire early do not seem to have a health impediment that prevents them from working. 14 Thus, delaying effective retirement could be a feasible option for many Russians. In addition, the expected improvements in life expectancy at retirement—about 1 year per decade—imply that at least part of these gains in longevity could be spent in the workforce.

One option would be to equalize the retirement age across genders, i.e., to set the statutory retirement age at 60 for both men and women. This is because the statutory retirement age for women is relatively low internationally, but especially given the longer life expectancy of women relative to men. Today, most advanced economies have equal ages of retirement for both genders and many emerging economies are in the process of equalizing them. This could be done gradually over the next 10 years, for instance. Such a reform would reduce pension spending by nearly 2 percentage points of GDP in 2030 and 2050 (Figure 5).

Figure 5.
Figure 5.

Impact of Increasing Retirement Ages, 2010–50

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2012, 201; 10.5089/9781475505511.001.A001

Source: IMF staff estimates.Note: The simulations assume that for every year increase in the retirement age, all individuals would claim pension one year later—including those who claim early retirement and disability pensions.

A more ambitious reform could aim to increase gradually retirement ages of both men and women to age 63 by 2030. This proposal alone would be enough to keep pension spending in 2030 as a share of GDP essentially unchanged from its 2010 level while maintaining a replacement rate of about 40 percent.15 However, without further increases in statutory retirement ages, pension spending will start to increase after 2030—from 9 percent in 2030 to 11½ percent in 2050. If instead, the pension age for both sexes were further increased to 65 years by 2050—about 1 year per decade in line with the projected increases in longevity—pension spending in 2050 would be only marginally above its 2010 level. This shows that retirement age increases in line with life expectancy would be required to keep spending in check. Of course, if life expectancy developed differently than currently projected, the required changes to the retirement age would be different. Also, it is important to note that some people might not be able to keep working much longer beyond the current retirement ages, so these proposals should be accompanied by adequate disability pensions and social assistance programs to protect those who cannot extend their work lives. For those who are able to extend their working lives, it would be important to tighten eligibility criteria for disability and survivors pensions as the retirement age is increased.

As noted in Section II, a significant share of retirees takes advantage of early retirement. In the baseline scenario, it is assumed in this paper that no one can retire before age 50 and everyone retires at the statutory retirement age of 55 for women and 60 for men. Those who have not yet reached retirement age are counted as retired if they were employed at ages 45–49 but are no longer employed at 50–54 for women or 50–59 for men.

Tightening early retirement eligibility could also help to contain pension spending, though not to the same extent as increases in the retirement age. For example, if it is assumed that no individual can claim a pension before the age of 55 for women and 60 for men, this would decreases pension spending by about half a percent of GDP in both 2030 and 2050.16

C. Increasing Revenues

Projected public pension spending increases could also be offset by increasing system revenues. This can be done, for example, by increasing the payroll tax rate from its current level of 22 percent of wages to about 30 percent of wage in 2030 and to more than 40 percent in 2050. These levels of contribution are beyond the currently observed payroll rates in other countries—nearly all advanced and emerging economies have pension contribution rates below 30 percent of wages. These large contribution hikes can have adverse labor market effects and can further promote informality. In addition, such increases would go against recent efforts of the Russian authorities to reduce the cost of labor—contribution rates were reduced from 26 percent of wages to 22 percent in 2011.17 Other options to increase revenues include using alternative revenue sources such as consumption taxes, particularly to finance the redistributive components of the system such as allowances.18 Similarly, Russia can aim to improve the efficiency of payroll contributions collection.

V. Concluding Comments

The appropriate reform mix depends on country circumstances and preferences, although increasing retirement ages can have many advantages (Karam, Muir, Pereira, and Tuladhar (2010)). First, it would promote higher employment levels which would raise the both the rate and level of economic growth. In contrast, raising payroll taxes, which are distortionary, could decrease labor supply and potential economic growth. By increasing lifetime working periods and earnings, raising the retirement age can also boost the growth of real consumption, even in the short run. Second, raising retirement ages would help to avoid a socially undesirable decrease in the replacement rate. Third, increases in retirement ages could also be easier for the public to understand in light of increasing life expectancies.

Given that retirement ages are low in Russia, the most immediate policy reform option is to raise them. This paper finds that gradually increasing statutory retirement ages for men and women to 63 by 2030 and to 65 by 2050, will largely contain public pension spending while maintaining a replacement rate of about 40 percent.19 If life expectancy trends beyond 2030 turn out to be different from those currently projected, then these increases could be revised accordingly. At the same time, increases in the retirement age should be accompanied by measures that protect the incomes of those that cannot continue to work. Older workers should be protected fully by disability pensions where appropriate and social assistance programs to ensure that increases in retirement ages do not raise poverty rates.

Increases in the statutory retirement age should also be accompanied by steps to limit early retirement. One way to limit early retirement is to phase out the complex categorical system that allows certain occupations and professions to claim benefits early. Another way to limit early retirement is to control strictly alternative pathways to retirement such as disability pensions, for instance by conditioning disability pensions on strict medical evaluations. In any case, benefits claimed prior to the retirement age should be reduced to reflect the longer period over which they will be received.

By undertaking reforms to put Russia’s pension system on a sustainable footing, pension reform could help support the needed fiscal adjustment over the medium to long term in order to ensure an enduring return to a sustainable fiscal position.

Reforming the Public Pension System in the Russian Federation
Author: Frank Eich, Mauricio Soto, and Ms. Charleen A Gust