Embracing a super model

The superannuation sky is not falling
Superannuation Retirement income Economics Economic forecasting New Zealand

New Zealand is one of a handful of countries to offer a universal non-means-tested benefit, payable from the age of 65 until death.

Commentators insist that with an ageing population, New Zealand Superannuation (NZS) is unsustainable. There are rising concerns that New Zealand is sitting on a fiscal time-bomb, and that urgent reform to NZS is needed.

Contrary to the doomsayers, this report offers a more positive story. Not only is NZS arguably one of the best pension models in the world, but the best evidence does not point to a looming fiscal crisis.

Any changes to NZS ought to preserve the best parts of the model, while ensuring NZS adapts to a changing environment.

There is a lot to like about the NZS model:

Low poverty rates: The material hardship rate for the elderly is low compared to other groups in New Zealand and is one of the lowest compared with European countries. The standard hardship rate for superannuitants is 3%, compared with 11% for the whole population and 18% for households with children.

Relatively affordable: NZS is more affordable than public pension schemes in many OECD countries, both today and in 2050. At around 8% of GDP, the projected public expenditure on NZS in 2050 is still lower than what many OECD countries are spending today. These include oft-acclaimed systems like in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.

Simple and efficient: NZS does not distort incentives for employment and savings as much as means-tested systems. When an NZS surcharge was introduced from 1985 to 1998, people went to great lengths to avoid paying it by hiding their assets. The simplicity of a universal benefit also lowers administrative costs.

Safeguard against debt: The Public Finance Act 1989 is a safeguard against the spiralling debt seen in other countries with ageing populations. If governments were not required to manage prudent debt levels, debt financing costs alone could rise from 1.6% of GDP in 2015 to 11% in 2060.

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