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Why the National Bank of Georgia Is Ditching Dollars for Gold

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The National Bank of Georgia (NBG) recently acquired 7 tons of high-quality monetary gold valued at $500 million, constituting approximately 11 percent of the banks’ total reserves. This marked the first occasion that Georgia acquired gold for its reserves since regaining its independence. The acquisition is a significant event, prompted by the NBG’s stated aim to enhance diversification amidst increased global geopolitical risks. However, diversification is just one of the reasons many countries are extensively purchasing gold. Another reason for increasing gold reserves is to lessen one’s reliance on the US dollar and to protect against sanctions, as seen with Russia and Belarus following the annexation of Crimea. While the NBG’s gold acquisition aligns with economic rationale, recent domestic developments suggest other motives. Actions like sanctions on political figures, anti-Western rhetoric, and recent legislation (the Law of Transparency of Foreign Influence), diverging Georgia from an EU pathway call for speculation that the gold purchase is driven by fear a of potential sanctions and as a preparedness strategy.

Introduction

The National Bank of Georgia (NBG) has broken new ground by adding gold to the country’s international reserves for the first time ever. Georgia has thus become the first country in the South Caucasus to purchase gold for its reserves. In line with its Board’s decision on March 1, 2024, the NBG procured 7 tons of the highest quality (999.9) monetary gold. The acquisition, valued at 500 million US dollars, took the form of internationally standardized gold bars, purchased from the London gold bar market and currently stored in London. Presently, the acquired gold represents approximately 11 percent of the NBG’s international reserves (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. NBG’s Official Reserve Assets and Other Foreign Currency Assets, 2023-2024.

Source: The National Bank of Georgia.

The NBG emphasizes in its official statement that the acquisition of gold is not merely symbolic but rather reflects a deliberate strategy of diversifying NBG’s portfolio and enhancing its resilience to external shocks. The NBG’s decision was made during a period marked by significant economic and political events both within and outside Georgia. Key among these were global and regional geopolitical tensions that amplified concerns about economic downturns and rising inflation. The Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 led to stagflation across many countries, including Georgia. Despite some recovery in GDP, high inflation continued into 2021. Furthermore, the Russian war on Ukraine disrupted supply chains, and pushed global inflation to a 24-year high 8.7 percent  in 2022. In response, stringent monetary policies aimed at controlling inflation were implemented across both developing and advanced economies. Looking ahead, there is an expectation of a shift toward more expansionary monetary policies that should help lower interest rates (and lower yields on assets held by central banks). These global conditions provide context for the NBG’s strategic focus on diversification.

However, alongside these economic events, Georgia also faces significant political challenges. Since the beginning of Russia’s war in Ukraine in 2022, political tensions in Georgia have escalated. Notable actions such as the U.S. imposing sanctions on influential Georgian figures, including judges and the former chief prosecutor, have, among other things, intensified scrutiny into the Russian influence in Georgia. Concerns about the independence of the Central Bank, which changed the rule of handling sanctions applications for Georgia’s citizens, and legislative initiatives like the Law of Transparency of Foreign Influence, which undermines Georgia’s EU accession ambitions, have triggered reactions from the country’s partners and massive public protests. Moreover, anti-Western rhetoric from the ruling party has raised concerns. In addition, the parliament of Georgia recently approved an amendment to the Tax Cide, a so-called ‘law on offshores’. The opaque nature of the law, as well as the context and speed at which it was advanced, sparked outcry and conjecture about its true purpose. These elements lead to speculation that the decision to purchase gold may be motivated by a desire for greater autonomy or a fear of potential sanctions, rather than purely economic reasons.

In the context of the above, this policy brief seeks to explore the motivations behind gold acquisitions by Central Banks, drawing on the experiences of both developed and developing countries. It aims to review existing literature that explores various reasons for gold acquisitions, providing a comprehensive analysis of economic and potentially non-economic factors influencing such decisions.

The Return of Gold in Global Finance

Over the past decade, central bank gold reserves have significantly increased, reversing a 40-year trend of decline. The shift that began around the time of the 2008-09 Global Financial Crisis is depicted in Figures 2 and 3, highlighting the transition from a pre-crisis period of more countries selling gold, to a post-crisis period where more countries have been purchasing gold.

Figure 2. Gold Holdings in Official Reserve Assets, 1999-2022 (million fine Troy ounces).

Source: IMF, International Financial Statistics.

Figure 3. Number of Countries Purchasing/Selling Monetary Gold, 2000-2021 (at least 1 metric ton of gold in a given year).

Source: IMF, International Financial Statistics.

In 2023, central banks added a considerable amount of gold to their reserves. The largest purchases have been reported for China, Poland, and Singapore, with these nations collectively dominating the gold buying landscape during the year.

China is one of the top buyers of gold worldwide. In 2023, the People’s Bank of China  emerged as the top gold purchaser globally, adding a record 225 tonnes to its reserves, the highest yearly increase since at least 1977, bringing its total gold reserves to 2,235 tonnes. Despite this significant addition, gold still represents only 4 percent of China’s extensive international reserves.

The National Bank of Poland was another significant buyer in 2023, acquiring 130 tonnes of gold, which boosted its reserves by 57 percent to 359 tonnes, surpassing its initial target and reaching the bank’s highest recorded annual level.

Other central banks, including the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the Central Bank of Libya, and the Czech National Bank, also increased their gold holdings, albeit on a smaller scale. These purchases reflect a broader trend of central banks diversifying their reserves and enhancing financial security amidst global economic uncertainties.

Conversely, the National Bank of Kazakhstan and the Central Bank of Uzbekistan were notable sellers, actively managing their substantial gold reserves in response to domestic production and market conditions. The Central Bank of Bolivia and the Central Bank of Turkey also reduced their gold holdings, primarily to address domestic financial needs.

The U.S. continues to hold the world’s largest gold reserve (25.4 percent of total gold reserves), which underscores the metal’s enduring appeal as a store of value among the world’s leading economies. The U.S. is followed by Germany at 10.5 percent, and Italy and France at 7.6 percent respectively. At present, around one-eighth of the world’s currency reserves comprise of gold, with central banks collectively holding 20 percent of the global gold supply (NBG, 2024).

Why Central Banks are Buying Gold Again

A 2023 World Gold Council survey (on central banks revealed five key motivations for holding gold reserves: (1) historical precedent (77 percent of respondents), (2) crisis resilience (74 percent), (3) long-term value preservation (74 percent), (4) portfolio diversification (70 percent), and (5) sovereign risk mitigation (68 percent). Notably, emerging markets placed a higher emphasis (61 percent) on gold as a “geopolitical diversifier“ compared to developed economies (45 percent).

However, the increasing use of the SWIFT system for sanctions enforcement (e.g., Iran in 2015 and Russia in 2022) has introduced a new factor influencing gold purchases of some governments: safeguarding against sanctions (Arslanalp, Eichengreen and Simpson-Bell, 2023).

In addition, Arslanalp, Eichengreen, and Simpson-Bell (2023) conclude that central banks’ decisions to acquire gold are primarily driven by the following factors; inflation, the use of floating exchange rates, a nation’s fiscal stability, the threat of sanctions, and the degree of trade openness (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. Determinants of Gold Shares in Emerging Market and Developing Economies.

Source: Arslanalp, Eichengreen, and Simpson-Bell (2023).

Gold as a Hedging Instrument

Gold is considered a safe haven and an attractive asset in periods of significant economic, financial, and geopolitical uncertainty (Beckman, Berger, & Czudaj, 2019). This is particularly relevant when returns on reserve currencies are low, a scenario prevalent in recent years.

A hedge against inflation: Inflation presents a significant challenge for central banks, as it erodes the purchasing power of a nation’s currency. Gold has been a long-standing consideration for central banks as a potential inflation hedge. Its price often exhibits an inverse relationship with the value of the US dollar, meaning it tends to appreciate as the dollar depreciates. This phenomenon can be attributed to two primary factors: (1) increased demand during inflationary periods; and (2) gold tends to have intrinsic value unlike currencies (Stonex Bullion, 2024).

Diversification of portfolio: Diversification is a cornerstone principle of portfolio management. It involves allocating investments across various asset classes to mitigate risk. Gold, with its negative correlation to traditional assets like stocks and bonds, can be a valuable tool for portfolio diversification. In simpler terms, when stock prices decline, gold prices often move in the opposite direction, offering a potential hedge against market downturns (see Figure 5).

Figure 5. How Gold Performs During Recession, 1970-2022.

Source: Bhutada (2022).

Hedge against geopolitical risks: de Besten, Di Casola and Habib (2023) suggest that geopolitical factors may have influenced gold acquisitions for some central banks in 2022. A positive correlation appears to exist between changes in a country’s gold reserves and its geopolitical proximity to China and Russia (compared to the U.S.) for countries actively acquiring gold reserves. This pattern is particularly evident in Belarus and some Central Asian economies, suggesting they may have increased their gold holdings based on geopolitical considerations.

Low or Negative Interest Rates: When interest rates on major reserve currencies like the US dollar are low or negative, it reduces the opportunity cost of holding gold (gold is a passive asset that does not generate periodic income, dividends, and interest benefits). In other words, gold becomes a more attractive option compared to traditional investments that offer minimal or no returns. The prevailing low-interest rate environment, particularly for major reserve currencies like the US dollar, has diminished the opportunity cost of holding gold.

This phenomenon applies to both advanced economies and emerging market economies (EMDEs). Notably, EMDEs with significant dollar-denominated debt are particularly sensitive to fluctuations in US interest rates. Arslanalp, Eichengreen, and Simpson-Bell (2023) conclude that reserve managers are increasingly incorporating gold into their portfolios when returns on reserve currencies are low. Figure 6 illustrates the inverse relationship between the price of gold and the inflation-adjusted 10-year yield.

Figure 6. Gold Price and Inflation-Adjusted 10-Year Yield.

Source: Bloomberg, U.S. Global Investors.

In addition to its aforementioned advantages, gold offers central banks a long-term investment opportunity despite its lack of interest payments, unlike traditional securities. While gold exhibits short-term price volatility, its historical price trend suggests a long-term upward trajectory (see Figure 7).

Figure 7. Gold Price per Troy Ounce (approximately 31.1 grams), in USD.

Source: World Gold Council.

Gold as a Safeguard Against Sanctions

Gold is perceived as a secure and desirable reserve asset in situations where countries face financial sanctions or the risk of asset freezes and seizures (see Table 1). The decision by G7 countries to freeze the foreign exchange reserves of the Bank of Russia in 2022 highlighted the importance of holding reserves in a form less vulnerable to sanctions. Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Bank of Russia intensified its gold purchases. By 2021, it had confirmed that its gold reserves were fully vaulted domestically. The imposition of sanctions on Russia, which restrict banks from engaging in most transactions with Russian counterparts and limit the Bank of Russia’s access to international financial markets, further underscores the appeal of gold as a safeguard.

While the recent sanctions imposed by G7 countries, which limit Russian banks from conducting most business with their counterparts and restrict the Bank of Russia from accessing its reserves in foreign banks, are an extreme example, similar sanctions have previously impacted or threatened financial operations of other nations’ central banks and governments. This situation raises the question of whether the risk of sanctions has influenced the observed trend of countries’ increasing their gold reserves (IMF, International Financial Statistics, 2022).

Table 1. Top 10 Annual Increases in the Share of Gold in Reserves, 2000-2021.

Source: IMF, International Financial Statistics; Global Sanctions Database (GSDB). Note: Excludes countries with central bank gold purchases from domestic producers.

As outlined in Arslanalp, Eichengreen and Simpson-Bell (2023), there were eight active diversifiers into gold in 2021, each purchasing at least 1 million troy ounces (Kazakhstan, Belarus, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Hungary, Iraq, Argentina, Qatar), exhibiting distinct international economic or political concerns. Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Uzbekistan maintain ties with Russia through the Eurasian Economic Union. Turkey has faced sanctions from both the European Union and the U.S. Iraq has experienced disputes with the U.S., while Hungary has faced similar issues with the European Union. In 2017-21, Qatar was subjected to a travel and economic embargo by Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries. Argentina may have had concerns about asset seizures by foreign courts due to sovereign debt disputes.

Furthermore, according to the Economist (2022), gold is costly to transport, store, and protect. It is expensive to use in transactions and doesn’t earn interest. However, it can be lent out like currencies in a central bank’s reserves. When lent out or used in swaps (where gold is exchanged for currency at agreed dates), it can generate returns. But banks prefer gold to be stored in specific places like the Bank of England or the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which brings back the risk of sanctions. For instance, During the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and the subsequent hostage crisis, the United States froze Iranian assets, including the gold reserves held in U.S. banks (Arslanalp, Eichengreen  and Simpson-Bell, 2023). The National Bank of Georgia intends to transport its acquired gold from England to Georgia for storage, which could potentially reduce storage costs, but further decrease liquidity.

Arslanalp, Eichengreen, and Simpson-Bell (2023) conclude that since the early 2000s, half of the significant year-over-year increases in central bank gold reserves can be attributed to the threat of sanctions. By examining an indicator that tracks financial sanctions by major economies like the United States, United Kingdom, European Union, and Japan, all key issuers of reserve currencies, the authors have confirmed a positive correlation between such sanctions and the proportion of reserves held in gold. Furthermore, their findings suggest that multilateral sanctions imposed by these countries collectively have a more pronounced effect on increasing gold reserves than unilateral sanctions. This is likely because unilateral sanctions allow room for shifting reserves into the currencies of other non-sanctioning nations, whereas multilateral sanctions increase the risks associated with holding foreign exchange reserves, thus making gold a more attractive option.

The NBG’s Historic Decision

The National Bank of Georgia’s (NBG) recent acquisition of gold for its reserves is likely motivated by a desire to diversify its portfolio and hedge against inflation and geopolitical risks. However, recent developments in Georgia raise questions about the timing of this policy decision, bringing political considerations into the picture.

Among these developments is the 2023 suspension of the IMF program for Georgia, due to concerns about the NBG’s governance (Intellinews, 2023). The amendments to the NBG law in June 2023, which created a new First Deputy and Acting Governor position – superseding the existing succession framework – contradicted IMF Safeguards recommendations and raised concerns about increased political influence (International Monetary Fund, 2024). How the recent gold purchase reflect on the future of IMF cooperation is thus a relevant question to ask.

Another ground for concern is the recent approval by the Georgian Parliament of the anti-democratic “Foreign Influence Transparency” law and the anti-Western rhetoric of the ruling party, which have sparked intensive public protests. European partners warn that the law will not align with Georgia’s European Union aspirations and that it could potentially hinder the country’s advancement on the EU pathway. Rather, the law might distance Georgia from the EU. This law has also increased the concerns for further sanctions on members of the ruling party, government officials, and individuals engaging in anti-West and anti-EU propaganda.

Furthermore, the recent amendment of the Tax Code, the so-called “offshores law” allows for tax-free funds transfers from offshore zones to Georgia. This, combined with other developments, raises questions about whether the government is preparing for potential sanctions, should its relationship with Russia continue to strengthen.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this policy brief highlights that central banks’ acquisition of gold reserves, especially in emerging economies, is motivated by a combination of economic and political factors. The economic incentives include the need for portfolio diversification and protection against inflation and geopolitical instabilities, a trend that became more pronounced following the 2008 global financial crisis. Politically, the accumulation of gold serves as a strategic move to lessen dependency on the U.S. dollar and as a defensive measure against potential international sanctions, as highlighted by the post-2014 geopolitical shifts following Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

In 2024, Georgia purchased gold for the first time since regaining its independence. While its gold purchasing strategy seems to align with these economic motives, the recent domestic political dynamics suggest a deeper, possibly strategic political rationale by the National Bank of Georgia. The imposition of U.S. sanctions on key figures, and recent legislative actions deviating from European Union standards, all amidst increasing anti-Western sentiment, indicate that the NBG’s gold acquisitions might also be driven by a quest for greater safeguard against potential future sanctions. Thus, while economic reasons for the purchase are significant, the political underpinnings in the NBG’s recent actions raise numerous unanswered questions.

References

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

 

Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics Celebrates Its 35th Anniversary

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June 15, 2024, marks a significant milestone for the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) as it celebrates its 35th anniversary. Over the past three and a half decades, SITE has established itself as a leading institution dedicated to economic research and the development of policies for transition economies.

From its beginnings as Östekonomiska Institutet in 1989, under the leadership of Anders Åslund, to the rebranding as SITE in 1996 with Erik Berglöf at the helm, SITE has continuously evolved as a research institution, securing a position among the world’s top think tanks in the field of economics, with a focus on Eastern Europe. In 2006, Torbjörn Becker brought his expertise from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to lead SITE into a new era of research excellence, strengthening the focus on institution-building in the region.

Reflecting on this anniversary, Torbjörn Becker, Director of SITE, says:

“As we celebrate 35 years of economic research, policy analysis, and institution building, we are reminded of how important it is that we continue to work in this region. I am particularly proud that we are able to work with our fantastic partners in the FREE Network that make significant contributions to how their respective countries reform and develop.”

Building Institutions for Change

Since its foundation in 1989, SITE has been at the forefront of economic research and policy development in transition economies, playing a crucial role in establishing independent think tanks and academic institutions in Belarus, Georgia, Latvia, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine. These research institutes collectively established the Forum for Research on Eastern Europe and Emerging Economies (FREE Network); an umbrella organization that fosters collaboration and mutual learning among researchers, as well as administrative and institutional capacity building. As one of its key initiatives, the network publishes weekly policy briefs addressing contemporary economic policy challenges in Eastern Europe and emerging markets.

Bridging the Gap Between Research and Policy Making 

SITE’s ambition for the years to come remains unchanged: to bridge the gap between leading academic research and current policy making through debate and communication. At our flagship events, such as SITE Development Day and the SITE Academic Conference, we are committed to debating topics where research can pave the way to solving global and regional challenges. In our weekly seminars and regular workshops, we remain dedicated to exchanging ideas with leading experts and policymakers. In the last decades, SITE’s research has been cited by top journals in economics, while its impact beyond academic journals has resulted in more than 30 million impressions across local and international news.

Key Milestones in SITE’s History

Succession Dynamics in Latvian Family Firms

Riga's oldest business buildings representing succession dynamics in Latvian Family Firms

This policy brief examines the emergence, succession, and performance of first-generation family firms in Latvia, highlighting the unique challenges and achievements of these businesses since the early 1990s. Following Latvia’s independence, many family firms were established, providing a natural setting to study succession issues. Key findings reveal that initially, nearly half of these firms did not have a majority stake held by the founding family, but within the first few years after founding, families accumulated majority ownership. It typically took seven years for family ownership to exceed 75 percent. However, 23 years later, only 16 percent of the sample firms have second-generation shareholders. Notably, around 80 percent of these firms remain majority-owned and managed by their founders. Furthermore, family firms outperform non-family firms by 3.1 percent in return on assets (ROA). The findings underscore the need for policies that support effective succession planning, incentivize family-owned business sustainability, and provide targeted training for future generations to maintain the robust economic contributions of these firms.

Introduction

Family firms, where key decisions are controlled by individuals linked by blood or marriage, are the predominant organizational form worldwide. These firms face critical challenges, (e.g. leadership transition, generational differences, emotional ties to the business, and estate planning tax considerations) particularly during ownership succession, which is the transition from the first to the second generation of family members. This issue is especially relevant in Eastern European countries like Latvia, where the shift from a planned to a market economy in the 1990s created the first generation of family firms now approaching generational change.

Understanding how family firms manage this transition is crucial for policymakers, business leaders, and researchers. This policy brief highlights the key findings of a study (Pajuste and  Berzins (2024) on Latvian family firms, focusing on ownership succession patterns, the involvement of the next generation, and the impact on firm performance.

Succession Patterns and Ownership Evolution

In Latvia, many family firms began with founders holding minority stakes, reflecting financial constraints and economic uncertainties. Over time, families gradually increased their ownership stakes, demonstrating resilience and strategic planning. On average, it took seven years for family ownership to exceed 75 percent. This gradual ownership increase helped families navigate the challenges of economic transitions and limited access to external capital. The study also reveals that 23 years after being founded, only 16 percent of the sample firms have second-generation family members as shareholders.

Involvement of the Second Generation

The emergence of the second generation in family firm ownership is a pivotal phase. Succession planning and the transmission of familial values, knowledge, and entrepreneurial ethos are crucial during this period. By 2022, only 14 percent of the sample family firms had significant second-generation involvement (defined as the second generation holding a majority of the family shares and having a board seat).

More specifically, in a sample of 266 family firms, 20 percent had involved the second generation in ownership by 2022, with significant involvement in 71 percent of these cases. At the same time, 80 percent of the firms were still majority-owned and managed by the founders. This slow involvement of the second generation highlights the challenges of succession planning and the need for a strategic approach – both from a company and a legal perspective – to ensure a smooth transition from the first to second generation.

Importantly, despite this slow transition, family firms tend to perform better than non-family firms, with a 3.1 percent higher return on assets (ROA). However, within family firms, the involvement of the second generation does not significantly impact firm performance.

Policy Implications and Recommendations

The findings of this study have several important implications for policymakers, business leaders, and researchers.

Support for Succession Planning

There is a need for policies and programs that support succession planning in family firms. This includes providing resources and guidance for families to develop succession plans, ensuring the continuity of family businesses. Ensuring some form of succession, whether within the family or through external parties, is crucial to prevent these firms from closing. Facilitating succession and supporting the survival of these firms would not only protect jobs, but also have a positive economic effect as family firms outperform their non-family counterparts.

Financial Support and Access to Capital

Another way to enable smoother transition and growth for family firms is to improve their access to capital to help them overcome financial constraints. Financial institutions and government programs should focus on providing tailored financial products for family businesses. By doing so, they not only support the longevity of these businesses but also help in maintaining employment levels and preventing the economic fallout from family firm closures.

Education and Training

Educational programs and training for the next generation of family business leaders are essential. These programs should focus on leadership, management, and the unique challenges of family businesses, preparing the next generation for successful transitions.

Awareness and Best Practices

Raising awareness about the importance of succession planning and sharing best practices can help family firms navigate generational transitions more effectively.

Research and Data Collection

Continued research and data collection on family firms and their succession patterns are crucial. This helps in understanding the challenges and opportunities faced by family businesses, informing policies and practices that support their continuation and success.

Conclusion

Latvian family firms, like their counterparts worldwide, face significant challenges during ownership succession. This study highlights the gradual and strategic increase in family ownership stakes, the slow emergence of the second generation in ownership, and the need for comprehensive succession planning. Policymakers, business leaders, and researchers must work together to support family firms in navigating these transitions, ensuring their continued contribution to the economy.

Effective succession planning is crucial for sustaining family businesses across generations, preserving their legacy, and promoting economic growth. By addressing the unique challenges faced by family firms, we can create a supportive environment that fosters the longevity and success of these vital enterprises.

Acknowledgment

This brief is based on an academic article Family Firm Succession: First-generation transitions in Latvia co-authored with Janis Berzins and forthcoming in Finance Research Letters. We acknowledge financial support from the EEA research grant Global2micro (S-BMT-21-8, LT08-2LMT-K-01-073).

References

  • Pajuste, A., and Berzins, J. (2024). Family firm successions: First-generation transitions in Latvia. Finance Research Letters, 64, forthcoming.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

A Gender Perspective on Financing for Development

Featuring scene with women walking between tall columns casting long shadows representing gender equality financing.

Gender equality should be considered a global public good due to its extensive benefits for both society and the environment. Investing in gender equality as a global public good necessitates a coordinated international effort, which should be a focal point in discussions on the future of development financing. The upcoming Fourth International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD) in 2025 in Madrid, Spain, provides a crucial opportunity to assess the progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and allow countries to refine their strategies. However, recent background documents lack an explicit focus on opportunities for advancing gender equality, which was also inadequately addressed in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda formulated at the previous FfD conference in 2015. This brief is based on the first of a series of roundtables, organized by the Center for Sustainable Development (CSD) at Brookings, aimed at providing inputs on this critical topic in the lead-up to the Madrid conference.

Financing for development relies on three main pillars: domestic resource mobilization; development assistance; and other sources of international financing. The latter category includes both private and public sources that emerge in response to the need for a global safety net and social protection system, especially in light of increasing risks from pandemics and climate-related shocks. This policy brief is an attempt to highlight how gender considerations may integrate into each of these pillars. It builds on insights from the first Center for Sustainable Development roundtable, discussing this important issue in preparation for the Fourth International Conference on Financing for Development in 2025.

Domestic Resource Mobilization

Fiscal policy plays a critical role in addressing gender gaps, particularly in low-income economies with limited fiscal space. Fiscal policies, including tax systems and public spending, must be designed to consider their gender-specific impacts. For the spending side, several initiatives are promoting tools like gender responsive budgeting, as has been recently discussed in a FROGEE policy paper by Anisimova et al. 2023, on the case of Ukraine.

One key area caregiving services. Caregiving, whether for children, the elderly, or other dependents, disproportionately affects women (see another FREE Network brief by Akulava et al. 2021) and remains largely invisible in economic policies. Many countries, especially outside of higher-income economies, lack universal caregiving services and infrastructure. This sector is significant for economic development and resilience, especially in the context of climate change, which is expected to increase the demands on caregiving due to displacement and health-related challenges. Therefore, integrating care into fiscal policy discussions is not only about gender equality but also about economic resilience and climate adaptation.

To address unpaid care work effectively, it is necessary to integrate care into public finance systems. This can involve developing public caregiving infrastructure and services that support both paid and unpaid caregivers. One first step in this direction would be the monitoring of household time-budgets, to start understanding and analyzing the supply of caregiving services that currently is largely undocumented.

Another policy area crucial for supporting women are social protection policies. In particular policies such as parental leave and childcare support can help reduce gender disparities in the labor market (see examples in the FREE Network brief by Campa, 2024). By providing a safety net, social protection policies enable women to participate more fully in economic activities without the constant threat of financial insecurity.

A specific challenge of the developing world in this respect is the fact that many women work in the informal sector and thereby lack access to social security benefits, leaving them vulnerable during economic hardships. Economic development alone does not solve this issue, as even many developed and wealthy countries lack comprehensive social protection systems. Therefore, a specific effort is needed to develop inclusive social protection systems that cover informal workers, ensuring women have access to benefits such as pensions, healthcare, and unemployment insurance.

Much less discussed is the integration of gender concerns in the taxation side of fiscal policy. Progressive taxation, where tax rates increase with higher income levels, is particularly beneficial for women, who are overrepresented in lower income quintiles. A progressive tax system can thus, besides helping redistribute wealth more equitably, also support gender equality.

Effective tax administration is crucial for improving compliance and maximizing revenue collection. However, it is particularly important in this context to design tax systems that minimize the compliance burden on low-income and informal sector workers, many of whom are women. This can be achieved by simplifying tax procedures and providing support for small and micro enterprises to navigate the tax system. The potential of digital tax systems is significant in this regard (Okunogbe, 2022). Digitalization can streamline tax collection, reduce administrative costs, and improve compliance. However, there are challenges associated with digital tax systems, particularly in ensuring accessibility for all citizens. Women, especially those in rural areas and with lower literacy levels, may face significant barriers in accessing and utilizing digital tax systems. Therefore, while digitalization offers many benefits, it must be implemented in a way that is inclusive and equitable. This includes providing digital literacy training and ensuring that digital tax platforms are user-friendly and accessible to all segments of the population.

Health taxes, such as those on tobacco, alcohol, and sugar-sweetened beverages, may also play a role in promoting gender equity. These taxes help reduce consumption of harmful products, which are disproportionately consumed by men and heavily affect household budgets. By discouraging the use of such products, health taxes can redirect household spending towards more beneficial areas, such as education and healthcare, which are often prioritized by women.

Moreover, health taxes can generate significant revenue that can be reinvested in gender-responsive public spending. For instance, funds raised from health taxes can be allocated to healthcare services, including reproductive health and maternal care, which directly benefit women. Additionally, excise taxes on harmful products address externalities, improving overall public health and reducing the burden on women who often provide unpaid health care.

Broader Sources of Financing for Social Services

The increasing risks from pandemics, climate-related shocks, food insecurity, and other economic shocks of a global nature highlight the need for a global safety net and social protection system. This in turn raises additional demand for effective financing for social services. One area in which new sources of international funding can be found is the emerging global infrastructure for climate finance.

Climate Finance and Gender Equality

Climate finance presents a unique opportunity to address gender equality, particularly in the context of climate adaptation and mitigation strategies. Due to (among others) resource constraints, unequal land ownership and unevenly distributed family responsibilities, women are often more vulnerable to climate impacts. Integrating gender considerations into climate adaptation and mitigation strategies ensures women are supported in building resilience.

One key approach is to use climate finance to promote economic diversification for women, especially in sectors like agriculture, where they play a significant role. For example, providing female farmers with access to capital, training, and resources to adopt climate-resilient agricultural practices can improve their economic security and reduce their vulnerability to climate shocks. This includes supporting transitions to sustainable farming methods, such as crop diversification, agroforestry, and improved irrigation techniques.

Additionally, climate finance can support the development of climate-resilient infrastructure that benefits women. This includes investments in clean energy, water management systems, and transportation networks that are essential for their daily activities and livelihoods. Ensuring that women have access to and can benefit from these infrastructures is crucial for their overall well-being and economic empowerment.

Women can play a pivotal role in natural resource management and environmental conservation. Research has shown that involving women in the management of natural resources, such as forests and water bodies, may lead to more sustainable and equitable outcomes. Women tend to prioritize long-term sustainability and community benefits, which can enhance the effectiveness of conservation efforts (see Agarwal, 2010. For a more nuanced view, see Meinzen-Dick, Kovarik and Quisumbing, 2014).

Climate finance can be used to support initiatives that empower women in natural resource management. This includes providing training and capacity-building programs that equip women with the knowledge and skills needed to manage resources effectively. Additionally, creating platforms for women to participate in decision-making processes related to environmental conservation ensures that their perspectives and needs are considered.

Innovative financing mechanisms can significantly enhance resources available for gender equality initiatives. Several potential sources of finance include Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), currency transaction taxes, and carbon taxes. Revenues generated from these sources can be directed towards climate and gender initiatives, such as supporting women’s participation in the green economy, funding renewable energy projects that benefit women, and investing in climate adaptation measures that protect vulnerable communities.

Development Assistance

Historically, development assistance explicitly targeted to gender equality initiatives has been insufficient. This has changed over time, but the overall financial support remains inadequate. Current ODA (Official Development Assistance) for gender equality often overestimates the actual financial support to such initiatives because it relies heavily on intention-based data rather than results-based financing. This means that the reported figures reflect commitments to gender-related projects without necessarily demonstrating their effectiveness or outcomes. As a result, the true impact of this funding for gender equality is difficult to ascertain.

In principle, development assistance should contribute to gender equality even beyond explicit targeting, simply through improving general economic conditions and generating opportunities. Economic development, after all, is good for gender equality (Duflo, 2012). The effectiveness of development assistance in promoting gender equality is however severely understudied, as discussed in Berlin et al. (2024) (and in a policy brief by Perrotta Berlin, Olofsgård and Smitt Meyer, 2023). We know that development assistance has a slight positive impact, and that gender-targeted aid projects tend to show somewhat larger impacts. But to learn more a more systematic reporting of donor activities is needed. This in particular when it comes to gender markers, i.e. the labeling of specific projects and programs as gender-oriented, that as of now are voluntary.

The effectiveness of gender-focused aid also heavily depends on local cultural dynamics and existing community norms. In some cases, aid aimed at improving economic opportunities for women can lead to negative reactions from men, a phenomenon known as backlash. Therefore, understanding and addressing these local cultural dynamics is crucial when designing and implementing gender-focused aid interventions.

Another critical aspect is the allocation of gender-targeted aid. It is essential to ensure that aid reaches the areas and communities where it is most needed. This requires a granular understanding of local needs and conditions, which is often lacking in broad, country-level data. More precise, geocoded data on aid distribution can help ensure that resources are allocated effectively and equitably. Improving the quality and granularity of data is also vital for monitoring and evaluating the impact of development assistance on gender equality. Current data collection efforts often fall short, lacking detailed, disaggregated information necessary for comprehensive analysis. National statistical agencies need more funding and support to collect this data, which is critical for understanding and addressing gender disparities.

Conclusions and Policy Recommendations

Advancing gender equality contributes to improved health outcomes, economic growth, and social stability. Moreover, gender equality plays a crucial role in addressing global challenges such as climate change, peacebuilding, and sustainable development. Therefore, it should be considered a global public good.

Investing in gender equality as a global public good requires a coordinated international effort. This includes mobilizing resources from various sources, including governments, international organizations, and the private sector. By recognizing the intrinsic value of gender equality and its contribution to global well-being, the international community can prioritize and allocate resources more effectively.

The discussion in this brief aims to highlight key areas that require focused efforts if the global community is to leverage gender equality to make progress toward the SDGs. In summary, enhanced data quality, integrated policies, innovative financing solutions, and gender-inclusive leadership are critical components of a strategy aimed at achieving lasting and meaningful progress in gender equality as well as broad sustainable development.

References

  • Agarwal, B. (2010). Does women’s proportional strength affect their participation? Governing local forests in South Asia. World development 38(1), 98-112.
  • Anisimova, A., Perrotta Berlin, M., Bosnic; M., Campa, P. Mych, M. Oczkowska, M. and Shapoval, N. (2023). Rebuilding Ukraine: the Gender Dimension of the Reconstruction Process. FREE Network Policy Paper.
  • Akulava, M., Babych, Y., Griogryan, A., Iarovskyi, P., Keshelava, D., Khachatryan, K., Król, A., Mikhailova, T., Mzhavanadze, G., Oczkowska, M., Pluta, A., Shpak, S. (2021). Global gender gap in unpaid care: why domestic work still remains a woman’s burden. FREE Network Policy Brief.
  • Perrotta Berlin, M., Bonnier, M., Olofsgård, A. (2024). Foreign Aid and Female Empowerment. The Journal of Development Studies, 60:5, 662-684, DOI: 10.1080/00220388.2023.2284665
  • Perrotta Berlin, M., Olofsgård, A., Smitt Meyer, C. (2023) Does Foreign Aid Foster Female Empowerment?. FREE Network Policy Brief
  • Campa, P. (2024). What Is the Evidence on the Swedish “Paternity Leave” Policy?. FREE Network Policy Brief
  • Duflo, E. (2012). Women empowerment and economic development. Journal of Economic Literature, 50(4), 1051–1079. doi:10.1257/jel.50.4.1051.
  • Meinzen-Dick, R., Kovarik, C., Quisumbing A., R. (2014). Gender and sustainability. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 39: 29-55.
  • Okunogbe, O., Pouliquen, V. (2022). Technology, taxation, and corruption: evidence from the introduction of electronic tax filing. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 14.1: 341-372.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Navigating Market Exits: Companies’ Responses to the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 led to widespread international condemnation. As governments imposed sanctions on Russian businesses and individuals tied to the war, international companies doing business in Russia came under increasing pressure to withdraw from Russia voluntarily. In the first part of this policy brief, we show what kind of companies decided to leave the Russian market using data collected by the LeaveRussia project. In the second part, we focus on prominent Swedish businesses which announced a withdrawal from Russia, but whose products were later found available in the country by investigative journalists from Dagens Nyheter (DN). We collect the stock prices for these companies when available and show how investors respond to these news.

Business Withdrawal from Russia

The global economy is highly interconnected, and Russia forms an important part. Prior to the invasion, Russia ranked 13th in the world in terms of global goods exports value and 22nd in terms of imports (Schwarzenberg, 2023). In the months following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s imports dropped sharply (about 50 percent according to Sonnenfeld et al., 2022). Before February 24th, Russia’s main trading partners were China, the European Union (in particular, Germany and the Netherlands) and Belarus (as illustrated in Figure 1). While there is some evidence of Russia shifting away from Western countries and towards China following the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the resulting sanctions, Western democracies still made up about 60 percent of Russia’s trade  in 2020 (Schwarzenberg, 2023). In the same year, Sweden’s exports to Russia accounted for 1.4 percent of Sweden’s total goods exports, of which 59 percent were in the machinery, transportation and telecommunications sectors. 1.3 percent of Swedish imports were from Russia (Stockholms Handelskammare, 2022).

Figure 1. Changes in trade with Russia, 2013-2020.

Source: IMF Direction of Trade Statistics, data until 2020. From Lehne (2022).

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2024, Western governments imposed strict trade and financial sanctions on Russian businesses and individuals involved in the war (see S&P Global, 2024). These sanctions are designed to hamper Russia’s war effort by reducing its ability to fight and finance the war. The sanctions make it illegal for, e.g., European companies to sell certain products to Russia as well as to import select Russian goods (Council of the European Union, 2024). Even though sanctions do not cover all trade with Russia, many foreign businesses have been pressured to pull out of Russia in an act of solidarity. The decision by these businesses to leave is voluntary and could reflect their concerns over possible consumer backlash. It is not uncommon for consumers to put pressure on businesses in times of geopolitical conflict. For instance, Pandya and Venkatesan (2016) find that U.S. consumers were less likely to buy French-sounding products when the relationship between both countries deteriorated.

The LeaveRussia Project

The LeaveRussia project, from the Kyiv School of Economics Institute (KSE Institute), systematically tracks foreign companies’ responses to the Russian invasion. The database covers a selection of companies that have either made statements regarding their operations in Russia, and/or are a large global player (“major companies and world-famous brands”), and/or have been mentioned in relation to leaving/waiting/withdrawing from Russia in major media outlets such as Reuters, Bloomberg, Financial times etc. (LeaveRussia, 2024). As of April 5th, 2024, the list contains 3342 firms, the companies’ decision to leave, exit or remain in the Russian market, the date of their announced action, and company details such as revenue, industry etc. The following chart uses publicly available data from the LeaveRussia project to illustrate patterns in business withdrawals from Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.

Figure 2a shows the number of foreign companies in Russia in the LeaveRussia dataset by their country of headquarters. Figure 2b shows the share of these companies that have announced a withdrawal from Russia by April 2024, by their country of headquarters.

Figure 2a. Total number of companies by country.

Figure 2b. Share of withdrawals, by country.

Source: Authors’ compilation based on data from the LeaveRussia project and global administrative zone boundaries from Runfola et al. (2020).

Some countries (e.g. Canada, the US and the UK) that had a large presence in Russia prior to the war have also seen a large number of withdrawals following the invasion. Other European countries, however, have seen only a modest share of withdrawals (for instance, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands and Slovakia). Companies headquartered in countries that have not imposed any sanctions on Russia following the invasion, such as Belarus, China, India, Iran etc., show no signs of withdrawing from the Russian market. In fact, the share of companies considered by the KSE to be “digging in” (i.e., companies that either declared they’d remain in Russia or who did not announce a withdrawal or downscaling as of 31st of March 2024) is 75 percent for more than 25 countries, including not only the aforementioned, but also countries such as Argentina, Moldova, Serbia and Turkey.

Withdrawal Determinants

The decision for companies to exit the market may range from consumer pressure to act in solidarity with Ukraine, to companies’ perceived risk from operating on the Russian market (Kiesel and Kolaric, 2023). Out of the 3342 companies in the LeaveRussia project’s database, about 42 percent have, as of April 5th, 2024, exited or stated an intention to exit the Russian market. This number increases only slightly to 49 percent when considering only companies headquartered in democratic (an Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index score of 7 or higher) countries within the EU. Figure 3 shows the number of companies that announced their exit from the Russian market, by month. A clear majority of companies announce their withdrawal in the first 6 months following the invasion.

Figure 3. Number of foreign companies announcing an exit from the Russian market, 2022-2024.

Source: Authors’ compilation based on data from the LeaveRussia project.

Similarly to the location of companies’ headquarters, the decision to exit the Russian market varies by industry. Figure 4 a depicts the top 15 industries with the highest share of announced withdrawals from the Russian market among industries with at least 10 companies. Most companies with high levels of withdrawals are found in consumer-sensitive industries such as the entertainment sector, tourism and hospitality, advertising etc.

Figure 4a. Top 15 industries in terms of withdrawal shares.

Figure 4b. Bottom 15 industries in terms of withdrawal shares.

Source: Authors’ compilation based on data from the LeaveRussia project.

In contrast, Figure 4b details the industries with the lowest share of companies opting to withdraw from the Russian market. Only around 10 percent of firms in the “Defense” and “Marine Transportation” industries chose to withdraw. Two-thirds of firms within the “Energy, oil and gas” and “Metals and Mining” sectors have chosen to remain in business in Russia following the war in Ukraine.

Several sectors have been identified as crucial in supplying the Russian military with necessary components to sustain their military aggression against Ukraine, mainly electronics, communications, automotives and related categories. We find that many of these sectors are among those with the lowest share of companies withdrawing from Russia. Companies for which Russia constitute a large market share have more to lose from exiting than others. Another reason for not exiting the market relates to the current legal hurdles of corporate withdrawal from Russia (Doherty, 2023). Others may simply not have made public announcements or operate within an industry dominated by smaller companies that are not on the radar of the LeaveRussia project. Nonetheless, Bilousova et al. (2024) detail that products from companies within the sanction’s coalition continue to be found in Russian military equipment destroyed in Ukraine. This is due to insufficient due diligence by companies as well as loopholes in the sanctions regime such as re-exporting via neighboring countries, tampering with declaration forms or challenges in jurisdictional enforcement due to lengthy supply chains, among others. (Olofsgård and Smitt Meyer, 2023).

And Those Who Didn’t Leave After All

The data from the LeaveRussia project details if and when foreign businesses announce that they will leave Russia. However, products from companies that have announced a departure from the Russian market continue to be found in the country, including in military components (Bilousova, 2024). In autumn 2023, investigative journalists from the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter exposed 14 Swedish companies whose goods were found entering Russia, in most cases contrary to the companies’ public claims (Dagens Nyheter, 2023; Tidningen Näringslivet, 2023). For this series of articles, the journalists used data from Russian customs and verified it with information from numerous Swedish companies, covering the time period up until December 2022. This entailed reviewing thousands of export records from Swedish companies either directly to Russia or via neighboring countries such as Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. All transactions mentioned in the article series have been confirmed with the respective companies, who were also contacted by DN prior to publication (Dagens Nyheter, 2023b). DNs journalists also acted as businessmen, interacting with intermediaries in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, exposing re-routing of Swedish goods from a company stated to have cut all exports to Russia in the wake of the invasion (Dagens Nyheter, 2023d).

For Sweden headquartered companies exposed in DN and that are traded on the Swedish Stock Exchange, we collect their stock prices and trading volume. Our data includes information on each stock’s average price, turnover, number of trades by date from around the date of the DN publications as well as the date of each company’s prior public announcement of exiting Russia. Table 1 details the companies who were exposed of doing direct or indirect business with Russia by DN and who had announced an exit from the Russian market previously. In their article series, DN also shows that goods from the following companies entered Russia; AriVislanda, Assa Abloy, Atlas Copco, Getinge, Scania, Securitas Tetra Pak, and Väderstad. Most of the companies exposed by DN operate within industries displaying low withdrawal shares.

Table 1. Select Swedish companies’, time of exit announcement and exposure in Dagens Nyheter and stock names.


Source: The LeaveRussia project, 2023; Dagens Nyheter, 2023b, 2023c, 2023d. Note: The exit statements have been verified through companies’ press statements and/or reports when available. For Epiroc, the claim has been verified via a previous Dagens Nyheter article (Dagens Nyheter, 2023a).

In Figure 5, we show the average stock price and trades-weighted average stock price of the Swedish companies in Table 1 around the time when the companies announced that they are leaving Russia.

Figure 5. Average stock price of companies in Table 1 around Russian exit announcements.

Source: Author’s compilation based on data from Nasdaq Nordic.

There appears to be an immediate increase in stock prices after firms announced their exit from the Russian market. Stock prices, however, reverse their gains over the next couple of days. In general, stock prices are volatile, and we also see similar-sized movements immediately before the announcement. Due to this volatility and the fact that we cannot rule out other shocks impacting these stock prices at the same time, it is difficult to attribute any movements in the stock prices to the firms’ decisions to leave Russia.

The academic evidence on investors’ reactions to firms divesting from Russia is mixed. Using a sample of less than 300 high-profile firms with operations in Russia compiled by researchers at the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute, Glambosky and Peterburgsky (2022) find that firms that divest within 10 days after the invasion experience negative returns, but then recover within a two-week period. Companies announcing divesting at a later stage do not experience initial stock price declines. In contrast, Kiesel and Kolaric (2023) use data from the LeaveRussia project to find positive stock price returns to firms’ announcements of leaving Russia, while there appears to be no significant investor reaction to firms’ decisions to stay in Russia.

When considering the effect from DN’s publications, the picture is almost mirrored, with the simple and trades-weighted average stock prices dipping in the days following the negative media exposure before not only recovering, but actually increasing. Similar caveats apply to the interpretation of this chart. In addition, the DN publication occurred shortly after the Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7 and Israel’s subsequent war on Gaza. While conflict and uncertainty typically dampen the stock market, the events in the Middle East initially caused little reaction on the stock market (Sharma, 2023).

Figure 6. Average stock price for companies listed in Table 1 around the time of DN exposure.

Source: Author’s compilation based on data from Nasdaq Nordic.

Discussion

As discussed in Becker et al. (2024), creating incentives and ensuring companies follow suit with the current sanctions’ regime should be a priority if we want to end Russia’s war on Ukraine and undermine its wider geopolitical ambitions. Nevertheless, Bilousova et al. (2024), and Olofsgård and Smitt Meyer (2023), highlight that there is ample evidence of sanctions evasions, including for products that are directly contributing to Russia’s military capacity. Even in countries that have a strong political commitment to the sanctions’ regime, enforcement is weak. For instance, in Sweden, it is not illegal to try and evade sanctions according to the Swedish Chamber of Commerce (2024). There is little coordination between the numerous law enforcement agencies that are responsible for sanction enforcement and there have been very few investigations into sanctions violations.

Absent effective sanctions enforcement and for the many industries not covered by sanctions, can we rely on businesses to put profits second and voluntarily withdraw from Russia? Immediately after the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as news stories about the brutality of the war proliferated, many international companies did announce that they will be leaving Russia. However, a more systematic look at data collected by the LeaveRussia project and KSE Institute reveals that more than two years into the war, less than half of companies based in Western democracies intend to distance themselves from the Russian market. A closer look at companies who are continuing operations in Russia reveals that they tend to be in sectors that are crucial for the Russian economy and war effort, such as energy, mining, electronics and industrial equipment. Many of these companies are probably seeing the war as a business opportunity and are reluctant to put human lives before their bottom line (Sonnenfeld and Tian, 2022).

Whether companies who announce that they are leaving Russia actually do leave is difficult to independently verify. A series of articles published in a prominent Swedish newspaper (Dagens Nyheter) last autumn revealed that goods from 14 major Swedish firms continue to be available in Russia, despite most of these firms publicly announcing their withdrawal from the country. The companies’ reactions to the exposé were mixed. A few companies, such as Scania and SSAB, have decided to cut all exports to the intermediaries exposed by the undercover journalists (for instance, in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan). Other companies stated that they are currently investigating DN’s claims or that the exports exposed in the DN articles were final or delayed orders that were accepted before the company decided to withdraw from Russia. Another company, Trelleborg – a leading company within polymer solutions for a variety of industry purposes – reacted to the DN exposure by backtracking from its earlier commitment to exit the Russian market (Dagens Nyheter 2023b, 2023d). Wider reaction to these revelations was muted. Looking at changes in stock prices for the exposed companies, we find little evidence that investors are punishing companies for not honoring their public commitment to withdraw from Russia.

In an environment, where businesses themselves withdraw at low rates and investors do not shy away from companies contradicting their own claims, the need for stronger enforcement of sanctions seems more pressing than ever.

References

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Would Electing More Women Make the U.S. Congress Less Polarized?

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With growing ideological polarization in the electorate and among U.S. Congress members, the view that electing more women would help solve partisan gridlocks has also grown especially popular. In this policy brief we review recent evidence on gender differences in cooperative behavior among legislators and argue that the prediction that a more female U.S. Congress would be less polarized does not find strong support in the data. While, in the past, Republican women have cooperated more with Democrats than their male colleagues we find evidence that this was due to higher ideological proximity between Republican women and Democrats rather than gender per se. Among Democrats, women actually appear to cooperate less with the opposite party than their male colleagues. Moreover, in recent years gender differences in ideology among Republicans have been narrowing, which also reduce gender differences in cooperation with the opposite party.

Gender Differences in Cooperative Behavior

Observers of U.S. politics have repeatedly reported increasing polarization in the U.S. electorate and Congress over the last decade, with growing concerns that the partisan gridlocks that have impaired Congress’ activities in the last two years will only grow after the 2024 elections. At the same time, it is widely believed that electing more women to the U.S. Congress would help reduce partisanship among legislators and promote cooperation across party lines. For instance, a report by the Center for American Women and Politics found that “collaboration by women across party lines is often fostered by participation in bipartisan, single-sex activities […] which can lead to policy collaboration” (Dittmar et al. 2017). These beliefs are rooted not only in anecdotal evidence but also in academic studies that, through laboratory experiments, have shown that women tend to cooperate more than men (cooperation is considered as working in a team to achieve a common good). However, this finding is not universal across settings and studies (Balliet et al. 2011), which suggests some caution in foreseeing fewer partisan gridlocks when more women are elected. Moreover, while laboratory experiments are a very important tool to discover patterns of human behavior in “ideal” conditions, testing for the robustness of experimental findings in real-world settings is a necessary step to draw definite implications for society-level outcomes.

What then is the research-based evidence on women’s willingness to cooperate with opposite parties as legislators?

Do Women in the U.S. Congress Cooperate More With the Opposite Party Than Men?

The proportion of women in Congress continues to be low, currently standing at 29 percent of the House of Representatives and 25 percent of the Senate. However, women’s representation has massively increased over time, especially since the 101st Congress, which was elected in 1989 (see Figure 1). This change has prompted researchers to investigate the effects of women’s different approaches to competitive and cooperative situations on the day-to-day working of Congress.

In examining the dynamics of legislative cooperation, contrasting viewpoints shed light on the role of gender in policymaking. Volden et al. (2013) find that women’s increased cooperativeness especially helps female lawmakers from minority parties who are able to sustain their bills throughout the legislative process, while more obstructive Congress members fail to find consensus. Offering an alternative explanation, Anzia and Berry (2011) show that female lawmakers indeed sponsor and co-sponsor more bills than male lawmakers but argue that this is due to only the best and most ambitious women entering Congress due to discrimination.

Figure 1. Women in Congress over time.

Source: Bagues et al. (2023), data from the Congressional Research Service.

This early work highlights the importance of studying gender differences in Congress overall and by party, while comparing women and men who have similar characteristics and are elected in comparable districts.

In a recent study, Gagliarducci and Paserman (2022) adopt several empirical strategies to assess the extent to which largely comparable women and men in Congress behave differently in terms of cooperativeness. Their measure of cooperation is the number of co-sponsors that women and men respectively attract on their bills, and what share of these co-sponsors that are from the opposite party. Each bill presented to the U.S. Congress has a main sponsor and can have an unlimited number of co-sponsors. These co-sponsors attract support for the bill and aid its passage through the necessary legislative steps. Gagliarducci and Paserman (2022) consider bills proposed to the U.S. Congress between 1988 and 2010 and find that among Democrats there is no significant gender gap in the number of co-sponsors recruited, but women-sponsored bills tend to have fewer co-sponsors from the opposite party. On the other hand, they establish robust evidence that Republican women recruit more co-sponsors and attract more bipartisan support on their bills than Republican men. They conclude that this pattern indicates that cooperation is mostly driven by a commonality of interest, rather than gender per se. This since during this period female Republican representatives were ideologically closer to Democrats than their male colleagues, whereas Democratic women were ideologically further away from Republicans. They proxy representatives’ ideology using information on the ideological leaning of voters in representatives’ constituency in the presidential elections. As the authors observe, these findings challenge the commonly held view that an increase in female representation in the US Congress would help solve partisan gridlock.

In a recent working paper (Bagues et al. 2023), we assess the replicability and reproducibility of these findings, given their practical relevance in the face of the upcoming 2024 Congress elections. Our work is part of a large effort promoted by the Institute for Replication to improve the credibility of social science by systematically reproducing and replicating research findings published in leading academic journals.

Using the same data and empirical strategies as in Gagliarducci and Paserman (2022), except for correcting for some data collection errors and proposing different assumptions on the empirical specifications, we virtually confirm all their original findings. Most importantly, we also extend the analysis to cover 2011-2020 to study gender differences in legislative cooperation in a context that differs in at least two relevant aspects. During this period the share of women in the House of Representatives became substantially larger and, moreover, within-party gender differences in ideology changed compared to previous decades. While Democratic female representatives are still less conservative that Democratic men, women became ideologically more similar to their male colleagues among Republicans. We reach this conclusion by proxying representatives’ ideology using information on the ideological leaning of voters in representatives’ constituency in the presidential elections, as in Gagliarducci and Paserman (2022).

Consistent with the hypothesis that gender differences in cooperation across parties are driven mainly by ideological distance, we observe that bills sponsored by female Democrats are less likely to have opposite party co-sponsors than bills sponsored by male Democrats. We also, do not observe any gender differences in bipartisan cooperative behavior among Republicans. Finally, we observe more robust evidence that during the last decade bills from both Republican and Democratic women attracted more sponsors than bills from their male colleagues.

In sum, the novel evidence from the 2011-2020 period strengthens the finding that cooperation with members of the other party is driven mainly by ideological proximity rather than gender per se.

Conclusion

We have reviewed the recent academic literature on gender differences in willingness to cooperate among legislators, considering the largely popular view that a more female U.S. Congress would be less polarized and thus face fewer partisan gridlocks. Such a view is particularly salient at a time of increased polarization in U.S. politics and growing representation of women in the U.S. Congress.

Overall, studies of the extent to which bills promoted by women and men in Congress attract co-sponsors from members of the opposite party invite caution in predicting fewer gridlocks from the election of more women. Women legislators do not appear to be inherently more willing to cooperate with the opposite party. Gender differences in cooperation noticed in the past seem to be mainly driven by Republican women being more likely to legislate with Democrats because of a higher degree of ideological proximity to the opposite party compared to their male colleagues. However, analysis of recent data also show that Republican women have become ideologically more aligned to their male colleague in the last decade. This suggests that as the share of women in Congress increases, their characteristics and ideological standing might also change, making it hard to predict patterns of future behavior based on the past.

References

  • Anzia, Sarah F., and Christopher R. Berry. (2011). The Jackie (and Jill) Robinson effect: Why do congresswomen outperform congressmen? American Journal of Political Science 55, no. 3. pp. 478-493.
  • Bagues, Manuel, Pamela Campa, and Giulian Etingin-Frati. (2022). Gender Differences in Cooperation in the US Congress? An Extension of Gagliarducci and Paserman. No. 75. I4R Discussion Paper Series, 2023.
  • Balliet, Daniel, Norman P. Li, Shane J. Macfarlan, and Mark Van Vugt. (2011). Sex differences in cooperation: a meta-analytic review of social dilemmas. Psychological Bulletin 137, no. 6. p. 881.
  • Dittmar, Kelly, Sanbonmatsu, Kira, Carroll, Susan, Walsh, Debbie, and Wineinger, Catherine. (2017). Representation Matters: Women in the U.S. Congress. Centre for American Women and Politics, Rutgers University.
  • Gagliarducci, Stefano, and M. Daniele Paserman. (2022). Gender differences in cooperative environments? Evidence from the US Congress. The Economic Journal 132, no. 641, pp. 218-257.
  • Volden, Craig, Alan E. Wiseman, and Dana E. Wittmer. (2013). When are women more effective lawmakers than men?. American Journal of Political Science 57, no. 2. pp.326-341.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Online Political Influence and Misinformation

The image depicts the concept of online misinformation using light colors and pastel shades representing online political influence and misinformation. It features a central laptop with a screen displaying a large question mark, symbolizing confusion and uncertainty

On May 13 2024, the Forum for Research on Media and Democracy in Eastern Europe (FROMDEE)  and the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) are organizing a conference in Stockholm on “Online Political Influence and Misinformation” with a keynote lecture by Jacob Shapiro (Princeton University).

Conference Brief

Online platforms, such as Facebook and X, have significantly impacted democratic processes. By enabling individuals to connect with millions of other users and potential voters, they have empowered citizen journalists and grassroots movements. However, these platforms have also dramatically accelerated the spread of misinformation and disinformation in society through fake news and conspiracy theories. Many online misinformation campaigns are conducted by foreign actors seeking to sow discord and undermine liberal democratic values. Our conference aims to bring together academics, policymakers, and civil society to highlight these online threats and discuss how our societies can effectively respond to them.

Keynote Speaker

Jacob Shapiro (Princeton University)

Professor Shapiro will be talking about Russian foreign influence campaigns in Western democracies. His lecture will be followed by two policy panels featuring policymakers, journalists, and academics:

  • (i) Russian disinformation campaigns;
  • (ii) Social media and media literacy.

Speakers

Registration and Program

The event will take place in the Aula, located in the main building of SSE and the registration opens at 13.30 outside the Aula. Please proceed with your registration via the Trippus platform by clicking the following link (see here). See the program in the following link (see here). Please contact site@hhs.se if you have any questions regarding the event.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed during events and conferences are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

The conference is organised as part of the FREE Network Initiative Forum for Research on Media and Democracy in Eastern Europe (FROMDEE), supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

About FROMDEE

In 2021 the FREE Network initiated the Forum for Research on Media and Democracy in Eastern Europe (FROMDEE)The long-run goal of FROMDEE is to help strengthen media and democracy in the region and bring together researchers with experience doing empirical work on these topics while facilitating the exchange of data and contextual knowledge across the FREE network, as well as building capacity to work on the frontier of social and data science.

Navigating Environmental Policy Consistency Amidst Political Change

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Europe, like other parts of the world, currently grapples with the dual challenges of environmental change and democratic backsliding. In a context marked by rising populism, misinformation, and political manipulation, designing credible sustainable climate policies is more important than ever. The 2024 annual Energy Talk, organized by the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE), gathered experts to bring insight into these challenges and explore potential solutions for enhancing green politics.

In the last decades, the EU has taken significant steps to tackle climate change. Yet, there is much to be done to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. The rise of right-wing populists in countries like Italy and Slovakia, and economic priorities that overshadow environmental concerns, such as the pause of environmental regulations in France and reduced gasoline taxes in Sweden, are significantly threatening the green transition. The current political landscape, characterized by democratic backsliding and widespread misinformation, poses severe challenges for maintaining green policy continuity in the EU. The discussions at SITEs Energy Talk 2024 highlighted the need to incorporate resilience into policy design to effectively manage political fluctuations and ensure the sustainability and popular support of environmental policies. This policy brief summarizes the main points from the presentations and discussions.

Policy Sustainability

In his presentation, Michaël Aklin, Associate Professor of Economics and Chair of Policy & Sustainability at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, emphasized the need for environmental, economic, and social sustainability into climate policy frameworks. This is particularly important, and challenging given that key sectors of the economy are difficult to decarbonize, such as energy production, transportation, and manufacturing. Additionally, the energy demand in Europe is expected to increase drastically (mainly due to electrification), with supply simultaneously declining (in part due to nuclear power phaseout in several member states, such as Germany). Increasing storage capacity, enhancing demand flexibility, and developing transmission infrastructure all require large, long-term investments, and uncompromising public policy. However, these crucial efforts are at risk due to ongoing political uncertainty. Aklin argued that a politics-resilient climate policy design is essential to avoid market fragmentation, decrease cooperation, and ensure the support for green policies.  Currently, industrial policy is seen as the silver bullet, in particular, because it can create economies of scale and ensure political commitment to major projects. However, as Aklin explained, it is not an invincible solution, as such projects may also be undermined by capacity constraints and labour shortages.

Energy Policy Dynamics

Building on Aklin’s insights, Thomas Tangerås, Associate Professor at the Research Institute of Industrial Economics, explored the evolution of Swedish energy policy. Tangerås focused on ongoing shifts in support for nuclear power and renewables, driven by changes in government coalitions. Driven by an ambition to ensure energy security, Sweden historically invested in both hydro and nuclear power stations. In the wake of the Three Mile Island accident, public opinion however shifted and following a referendum in 1980, a nuclear shutdown by 2010 was promised. In the new millennia, the first push for renewables in 2003, was followed by the right-wing government’s nuclear resurgence in 2010, allowing new reactors to replace old ones. In 2016 there was a second renewable push when the left-wing coalition set the goal of 100 percent renewable electricity by 2040 (although with no formal ban on nuclear). This target was however recently reformulated with the election of the right-wing coalition in 2022, which, supported by the far-right party, launched a nuclear renaissance. The revised objective is to achieve 100 percent fossil-free electricity by 2040, with nuclear power playing a crucial role in the clean energy mix.

The back-and-forth energy policy in Sweden has led to high uncertainty. A more consistent policy approach could increase stability and minimize investment risks in the energy sector. Three aspects should be considered to foster a stable and resilient investment climate while mitigating political risks, Tangerås concluded: First, a market-based support system should be established; second, investments must be legally protected, even in the event of policy changes; and third, financial and ownership arrangements must be in place to protect against political expropriation and to facilitate investments, for example, through contractual agreements for advance power sales.

The Path to Net-Zero: A Polish Perspective

Circling back to the need for climate policy to be socially sustainable, Paweł Wróbel, Energy and climate regulatory affairs professional, Founder of GateBrussels, and Managing Director of BalticWind.EU, gave an account of Poland’s recent steps towards the green transition.

Poland is currently on an ambitious path of reaching net-zero, with the new government promising to step up the effort, backing a 90 percent greenhouse gas reduction target for 2040 recently proposed by the EU However, the transition is framed by geopolitical tensions in the region and the subsequent energy security issues as well as high energy prices in the industrial sector. Poland’s green transition is further challenged by social issues given the large share of the population living in coal mining areas (one region, Silesia, accounts for 12 percent of the polish population alone). Still, by 2049, the coal mining is to be phased out and coal in the energy mix is to be phased out even by 2035/2040 – optimistic objectives set by the government in agreement with Polish trade unions.

In order to achieve this, and to facilitate its green transition, Poland has to make use of its large offshore wind potential. This is currently in an exploratory phase and is expected to generate 6 GW by 2030, with a support scheme in place for an addition 12 GW. In addition, progress has been achieved in the adoption of solar power, with prosumers driving the progress in this area. More generally, the private sectors’ share in the energy market is steadily increasing, furthering investments in green technology. However, further investments into storage capacity, transmission, and distribution are crucial as the majority of Polands’ green energy producing regions lie in the north while industries are mainly found in the south.

Paralleling the argument of Aklin, Wróbel also highlighted that Poland’s high industrialization (with about 6 percent of the EU’s industrial production) may slow down the green transition due to the challenges of greening the energy used by this sector. The latter also includes higher energy prices which undermines Poland’s competitiveness on the European market.

Conclusion

The SITE Energy Talk 2024 catalyzed discussions about developing lasting and impactful environmental policies in times of political and economic instability. It also raised questions about how to balance economic growth and climate targets. To achieve its 2050 climate neutrality goals, the EU must implement flexible and sustainable policies supported by strong regulatory and political frameworks – robust enough to withstand economic and political pressures. To ensure democratic processes, it is crucial to address the threat posed by centralised governments decisions, political lock-ins, and large projects (with potential subsequent backlashes). This requires the implementation of fair policies, clearly communicating the benefits of the green transition.

On behalf of the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics, we would like to thank Michaël Aklin, Thomas Tangerås and Paweł Wróbel for participating in this year’s Energy Talk.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Widowhood in Poland: Reforming the Financial Support System

Image representing a woman and a young girl emphasizing the bond between the mother and child representing financial support system.

Drawing on a recent Policy Paper, we analyse the degree to which the current system of support in widowhood in Poland limits the extent of poverty among this large and growing group of the population. The analysis is set in the context of a proposed reform discussed lately in the Polish Parliament. We present the budgetary and distributional consequences of this proposal and offer an alternative scenario which limits the overall cost of the policy and directs additional resources to low-income households.

Introduction

Losing a partner usually comes with consequences, both for mental health and psychological well-being (Adena et al., 2023; Blanner Kristiansen et al., 2019; Lee et al., 2001; Steptoe et al., 2013), and for material welfare. Economic deprivation may be particularly pronounced in cases of high-income differentials between spouses and in situations when the primary earner – often the man – dies first. Many countries have instituted survivors’ pensions, whereby the surviving spouse continues to receive some of the income of her/his deceased partner alongside other incomes. The systems of support differ substantially between countries and they often combine social security benefits and welfare support for those with lowest incomes.

In this Policy Brief we summarise the results from a recent paper (Myck et al., 2024) and discuss the material situation of widows versus married couples in Poland. We show the degree to which the ‘survivors’ pension’, i.e. the current system of support in widowhood, limits the extent of poverty among widows and compare it to a proposed reform discussed lately in the Polish Parliament, the so called ‘widows’ pension’. In light of the examined consequences from this proposal we relate it to an alternative scenario, which – as we demonstrate – brings very similar benefits to low-income widows, but, at the same time, substantially reduces the cost of the policy.

Reforming the System of Support in Widowhood

Our analysis draws on a sample of married couples aged 65 and older from the Polish Household Budget Survey – a group representing a large part of the Polish population (almost 1,7 million couples). Each of these couples is assigned to an income decile, depending on the level of their disposable income. Incomes of 9.5 percent of the sample locate them in the bottom decile, i.e. the poorest 10 percent of the population, while 4.4 percent of these older couples have incomes high enough to place them in the top income group – the richest 10 percent of the population.

Next, in order to examine the effectiveness of the different systems of support, we conduct the following exercise: incomes of these households are re-calculated assuming the husbands have passed away. This simulates the incomes of the sampled women in hypothetical scenarios of widowhood. The incomes are calculated under four different systems of support as summarized in Table 1.

Table 1. Modelled support scenarios.

Using these re-calculated household incomes, we can identify the relative position in the income distribution in the widowhood scenario as well as the poverty risk among widows under different support systems.

The change in the relative position in the income distribution following widowhood under the four support systems is presented in Figure 1. The starting point (the left-hand side of each chart) are the income groups of households with married couples aged 65+, i.e. before the simulated widowhood. The transition to the income deciles on the right-hand side of each chart is the result of a change in equivalised (i.e. adjusted for household composition) disposable income in the widowhood simulation, under different support scenarios (I – IV).

Figure 1. Change in income decile among women aged 65+, following a hypothetical death of their husbands.

Source: Own calculations based on HBS 2021 using SIMPL model; graphs were created using: https://flourish.studio/

Figure 1a shows that, without any additional support, the financial situation of older women would significantly deteriorate in the event of the death of their spouses (Figure 1a). The share of women with incomes in the lowest two deciles would be as high as 54.7 percent (compared to 17.5 percent of married couples). The current survivor’s pension seems to protect a large proportion of women from experiencing large reductions in their income (Figure 1b), although the proportion of those who find themselves in the lowest two income decile groups more than doubles relative to married couples (to 38.3 percent). The widow’s pension (Figure 1c) offers much greater support and a very large share of new widows remain in the same decile or even move to a higher income group following the hypothetical death of their spouses. For example, with the widows’ pension, 8.0 percent of the widows would be in the 9th income decile group and 5.3 percent in the 10th group, while in comparison 7.0 and 4.4 percent of married couples found themselves in these groups, respectively. The proposed alternative system (Figure 1d) raises widows’ incomes compared to the current survivor’s pension system, but it is less generous than the system with the widow’s pension. At the same time 4.6 percent and 3.4 percent of widows would be found in the 9th and 10th deciles, respectively.

Importantly, the alternative support system is almost as effective in reducing the poverty risk among widows as the widow’s pension. In the latter case the share of at-risk-of poverty drops from 35.3 percent (with no support) and 20.7 percent (under the current system) to 11,0 percent, while under the alternative system, it drops to 11.8 percent. Because the alternative system limits additional support to households with higher incomes, this reduction in at-risk-of poverty would be achieved at a much lower cost to the public budget. We estimate that while the current reform proposal would result in annual cost of 24.1 bn PLN (5.6 bn EUR), the alternative design would cost only 10.5 bn PLN (2.5 bn EUR).

The distributional implications of the two reforms are presented in Figure 2 which shows the average gains in the incomes of ‘widowed’ households between the reformed versions of support and the current system with the survivor’s pension. The gains are presented by income decile of the married households. We see that the alternative system significantly limits the gains among households in the upper half of the income distribution.

Figure 2. Average gains from an implementation of the widow’s pension and the alternative system, by income decile groups.

Source: Own calculations based on HBS 2021 using the SIMPL model. Notes: Change in the disposable income with respect to the current system with survivor’s pension. 1PLN~0.23EUR.

Conclusions

While subjective evaluations of the material conditions of older persons living alone in Poland have shown significant improvements, income poverty within this groups has increased since 2015. This suggests that the incomes of older individuals have not sufficiently kept up with the dynamics of earnings of and social transfers to other social groups in Poland. As shown in our simulations, the current widowhood support system substantially limits the risk of poverty following the death of one’s partner. However, while the current survivor’s pension decreases the poverty risk from 35.3 percent in a system without any support to 20.7 percent, the risk of poverty among widows is still significantly higher compared to the risk faced by married couples.

The simulations presented in this Policy Brief examine the implications of a support system reform; the widow’s pension which is currently being discussed in the Polish Parliament, as well as an alternative proposal putting more emphasis on poorer households. The impactof these two reforms on the at-risk-of poverty levels among widowed individuals would be very similar, but the design of the alternative system would come at a significantly lower cost to the public budget. The total annual cost to the public sector of the widow’s pensions would amount to 24.1 bn PLN (5.6 bn EUR) while our proposed alternative would cost only 10.5 bn PLN (2.5 bn EUR) per year.

An effective policy design allowing the government to achieve its objectives at the lowest possible costs should always be among the government main priorities. This is especially important in times of high budget pressure – due to demographic changes or other risks – as is currently the case in Poland.

References

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

 

Reforming Financial Support in Widowhood: The Current System in Poland and Potential Reforms

20240423 Widowhood in Poland Image 02

In this policy paper, we discuss the material conditions of widows and widowers compared to married couples in Poland, and analyse the degree to which the current support system to those in widowhood in Poland limits the extent of poverty among this large and growing share of the population. The analysis is set in the context of a proposed reform recently discussed in the Polish Parliament. We present the budgetary and distributional consequences of this proposal and offer an alternative scenario which limits the overall cost of the policy and directs  additional resources to low income households.

Introduction

According to the National Census in 2021 there were about 2.2 million widows and 450 000 widowers in Poland. In the following year over 123 000 women and about 47 000 men became widowed. Apart from the severe consequences for mental health and psychological well-being, losing a partner typically has implications also for material wellbeing, in particular in cases of high income differentials between the spouses and in situations when the primary earner – often the man – dies first. Material conditions of the surviving spouse in widowhood depend on the one hand on the couple’s accumulated resources, and, on the other hand, on the available  support system. Many countries have instituted so-called survivors’ pensions, whereby the surviving spouse continues to receive some of the income of her/his deceased partner alongside other incomes. The systems of support differ substantially between countries and they often combine social security benefits and welfare support for those with the lowest incomes.

In this policy paper we discuss the material situation of widows and widowers versus married couples in Poland and analyse the degree to which the current Polish support system for  people in widowhood limits the extent of poverty within this group. We compare the current system of survivors’ pension with a proposed reform discussed lately in the Polish Parliament;the introduction of a ‘widow’s pension’. We present the budgetary and distributional consequences of the announced scheme and offer an alternative scenario which limits the overall cost of the policy and focuses additional resources on low income households. Our results show significant income gains for  widows/widowers from the implementation of the recently proposed widow’s pension. The policy however, would come at a substantial cost to the public purse, and the most significant benefits would be accrued by surviving partners at the top of the income distribution. Our proposed alternative scenario is better targeted at poorer households and achieves the objective of limiting poverty in widowhood at a substantially lower cost.

The Material Situation of Widows and Widowers in Poland

Numerous research papers show a strong impact of losing a spouse on mental health and overall well-being (Blanner Kristiansen et al., 2019; Lee et al., 2001; Ory & Huijts, 2015; Sasson & Umberson, 2014; Schaan, 2013; Siflinger, 2017; Steptoe et al., 2013). Adena et al. (2023) use a comprehensive dataset on older women observed a number of years before and after the death of their spouses. The study finds a sharp deterioration in mental health among widows after their partner’s death, displayed as a higher likelihood of crying (Figure 1a) or an increased probability of depression (Figure 1b). The authors provide evidence that, in comparison to similar women who remained partnered, widows suffer from poorer mental health and experience worsened quality of life for several years after their partners’ death.

Figure 1. Women’s mental health before and after their partners’ death.

Source: Adena et al. (2023). Notes: The control group consisted of women from statistical “twin” marriages with an identical distribution of selected characteristics; Figure 1b) Risk of depression defined as 4 or more depression symptoms according to the EURO-D scale. For methodological details see Adena et al. (2023).

While the impact of spouse’s death on widows mental health is largely undisputed, the impacts on their material situation are ambiguous (Ahn, 2005; Bíró, 2013; Bound et al., 1991; Corden et al., 2008; Hungerford, 2001).The differences across countries in the material situation of widowed versus partnered elderly people undoubtedly reflect countries’ various social security systems for those in widowhood. At the same time, these differences may also stem from variations in other factors that widows and widwers can rely on such as the prevalence of property ownership or accumulation of wealth and savings. It should be noted though, that in contrast to the immediate effects of spouse’s death on mental health, the consequences for widows’ and widowers’ material situation may unfold over a number of years. This is reflected in the results from poverty surveys which often point to the poorer material standing of widows and widowers (Panek et al., 2015; Petelczyc & Roicka, 2016; Timoszuk, 2017, 2021).

Similar conclusions can be derived from subjective evaluations of households’ material situation reflected in the Central Statistical Office’s Polish Household Budget Survey (HBS). In Figure 2a we present the percentage of people aged 65 and over who declared a ‘bad’ or ‘rather bad’ material situation of their household between 2010 and 2021, split between widows, widowers and married couples.. Throughout the analysed period, the share of both widows and widowers reporting a rather bad material situation was significantly higher than for married couples aged 65+. While in 2010 30 percent of widows and 20 percent of widowers reported a rather bad material standing, this share amounted to just above 10 percent among married couples. In all social groups the ratio of those in a rather bad material situation declined significantly over the analysed decade. A particularly significant drop was observed among widows; in 2021 the share of widows declaring a rather bad material situation declined to the level observed for married couples eleven years earlier.

Data capturing the risk of poverty from Eurostat, based on the EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions Survey (EU-SILC), also display significantly worse material conditions of older individuals living alone compared to those living with another adult (Figure 2b). While this data does not explicitly allow us to divide the sample based on marital status, it is highly likely (and assumed hereafter) that the majority of single-person households 65+ cover widows or widowers, while two-person households aged 65+represent married couples. As compared to Figure 2a, the dynamics of the poverty levels among people aged 65+ in Figure 2b differ from the dynamics of the assessment of the overall material situation. Among two-person households, the risk of poverty in Poland declined between 2010 and 2013, and then remained relatively stable at about 15 percent until 2020. Among one-person households the poverty rate also declined during the first five years (from 33 percent in 2010 to 25 percent in 2015), however, it then increased to 37 percent in 2020. Consequently, the gap in poverty risk between two-person and one-person households increased substantially, from 8 percentage points in 2010 to 22 percentage points in 2020.

Figure 2. Material situation among households with individuals aged 65 and over.

Source: Own compilation based on: a) HBS; b) Eurostat. Notes: a) Widows and widowers aged 65+ living in one-person households; married couples living in two-person households with at least one spouse aged 65+; b) Eurostat data does not allow for division by gender or marital status. In two-person households both persons are adults, at least one is aged 65+. At-risk-of-poverty rate is defined as 60 percent of the median equivalized income of the entire population.

When analyzing poverty risk information, it should be noted that this indicator is based on income thresholds calculated separately for each year, accounting for the whole population. Poverty risk threshold may therefore increase as a result of income boosts among other groups and in consequence raise the risk of poverty of older people even if their real incomes are stable or grow. Thus the substantial increase in o the poverty risk share among Polish individuals 65+ and living alone after 2015, is related to the sharp rise in income of families with children and wage dynamics, which, in turn raised the poverty threshold considered in the analysis. Based on Figure 2b it is also worth noting that in comparison to Poland the risk of poverty among single-person households 65+ grew even faster in the Czech Republic (though the situation among two-person households 65+ was stable there). The  relative position of these households deteriorated also in Germany (the share at risk of poverty increased from 24 percent in 2010 to 31 percent in 2020). It is therefore clear that even though absolute material conditions may have improved among widowed households in Poland over the last decade, their relative position in the income distribution – as in many other countries – places them at a significantly greater risk of poverty compared to partnered older individuals. Questions regarding the level of state support directed towards widowed older individuals are therefore highly relevant for government policy.

Figure 3. The living situation of widows, widowers and married couples aged 65 and over, in Poland.

Source: Own compilation based on HBS. Notes: Widows and widowers aged 65+ living in one-person households. Married couples in two-person households with at least one spouse aged 65+.

To better understand the broader context of material conditions in widowhood, and to try to address the discrepancy between the trends in subjective evaluation and widows’ relative position in the income distribution, it is also worth examining other aspects of material well-being. In Figure 3a we present some statistics on property ownership. As we can see, the majority of individuals aged 65+ in Poland, both widowed and married, owned the house or flat they lived in. For example, in 2010 62 percent of all widows and 68 percent of all widowers owned their dwelling, and these shares increased to 72 percent for both groups by 2021. Moreover, among older owner occupiers, the size of the house or apartment per person living in it was on average two times larger for widows and widowers (50 m2) as compared to married couples (25 m2), as depicted in Figure 3b. The high share of widows and widowers owning housing assets may therefore be one of the most important explanations to the discrepancies between the dynamics of income poverty and the declarations about the overall material situation observed in recent years. Although the risk of relative income poverty among widows and widowers have increased since 2016 (after a period of decline between 2010 and 2015), widowhood in Poland is not unequivocally associated with poor material conditions. While some widowed individuals clearly face a challenging material situation, for many the current system of survivor’s pension seems to offer adequate protection against the risk of a significant financial deterioration following the loss of a spouse. This suggests that any additional support through a new social security instrument should be directed principally to a relatively narrow group of widows and widowers in order to help particularly those in a difficult financial situation.

Survivor’s Pension, Widow’s Pension and an Alternative Solution

In this part of the paper we present simulations of changes in the level of household income and the relative position in the income distribution among widows under different scenarios of support through the social security system. In the first step we use the 2021 HBS data (uprated to 2023 income levels) to calculate disposable incomes of the entire sample of nearly 31 000 households under the 2024 Polish tax-benefit system using the SIMPL tax and benefit microsimulation model (henceforth the ‘baseline’ system; more details on the SIMPL model: Myck et al., 2015, 2023a; Myck & Najsztub, 2014). Based on the baseline system, we divide the households into ten income decile groups according to their disposable income (equivalised, i.e. adjusted for household composition). In the second step we focus on the sample of 4188 married couples aged 65 and over, representing 1.7 million Polish households (almost 13 percent of the total population). 65 percent of these couples lived in two-person households and the remaining 35 percent cohabited also with other people. In the baseline system, the incomes received by these households placed 9.5 percent of them in the lowest (1st) income decile group and 4.4 percent in the highest (10th) group (see Table 1).

Table 1. Relative position of households with married couples aged 65+ in the income distribution.

Source: Own calculations based on HBS 2021 using the SIMPL model. Notes: The baseline system for calculating the equivalised income thresholds was the January 2024 system; the thresholds for the income decile groups were calculated on the basis of a full sample of households.

Figure 4a shows a comparison of men’s and women’s gross retirement pensions in our sample of married couples 65+ in the baseline system. Every dot corresponds to one married couple and a combination of the spouses’ pensions. The greater concentration of combinations of these values above the 45-degree line indicates that in most marriages , the husbands’ retirement pensions are higher than the wives’. The differences are also apparent in Figure 4b, which presents the percentages of individuals receiving a pension benefit within the given value range of the pension. The share of women are greater than the share of men at lower benefit values (below 3000 PLN gross per month), and the opposite is true for higher pension amounts. Overall, for 65 percent of all couples, the husband received a higher retirement pension than his wife. There are also older people who did not receive retirement benefits – either because they continued to work or because they were not entitled to a retirement pension (this is the case for 9 percent of husbands and 10 percent of wives), as illustrated by the first column in Figure 4b. It is worth noting that for 2 percent of the couples only the husband received a retirement pension (the wife had never worked and was not eligible for retirement pension or she still worked). In the current Polish system of support for surviving spouses, the amount of own and spouse’s retirement pension is crucial for the choice of the benefit one makes when a spouse dies. A widowed person can choose to continue receiving their own full retirement pension or to receive a survivor’s pension, which is equivalent to 85 percent of the pension of the deceased spouse. Given the differences between men’s and women’s pensions, many women choose the latter option, either because their own retirement pension is significantly lower than the survivor’s pension or because they are not entitled to their own retirement pension.

Figure 4. Retirement pension amounts received by husbands and wives aged 65+

Source: Own compilation based on HBS 2021. Notes: Both spouses aged 65 and over; gross monthly retirement pensions; in less than 1 percent of the marriages at least one spouse received a retirement pension higher than 10000 PLN (not included in the Figure). 1PLN~0.23EUR.

We treat the sample of married couples aged 65 years or more as a reference sample in our analysis of consequences from the implementation of various support schemes within the social security system, in the case of widowhood. The calculations presented below reflect the financial situation of the analysed sample after a hypothetical death of husbands. We focus on widows, as they represent the vast majority of widowed individuals (due to, e.g., longer life expectancy of women and age differences between spouses). We simulate four support scenarios:

I) a system with no support for widowed individuals – this would be the situation without the current survivor’s pension, in which widows would need to rely fully on their own social security incomes (pensions);

II) the current system of survivor’s pension: in which the widow must choose between 100 percent of her own pension or the survivor’s pension (85 percent of her deceased husband’s gross pension)

III) a system with the widow’s pension (currently debated in the Polish Parliament): the widow must choose between: a) 100 percent of her own pension + 50 percent of the survivor’s pension (42,5 percent of the deceased husband’s gross pension), b) 50 percent of her own pension + 100 percent of the survivor’s pension (85 percent of her dead husband’s gross pension);

IV) an alternative system in which the widow chooses between: a) 100 percent of her own pension + 50 percent of a minimum pension if her husband received at least minimum retirement pension (50 percent of the husband’s pension if it was lower than the minimum pension), b) 100 percent of the survivor’s pension (85 percent of the husband’s pension) increased to the minimum pension if the husband received at least minimum retirement pension.

While the simulations are based on a hypothetical death of a husband, they provide a realistic picture of the financial situation of households in which women face widowhood. It is also important to note that the simulations of the financial conditions of ‘widowed’ households take into account other potential forms of public social support such as housing benefits and social assistance for low-income households. The results thus include the most relevant forms of financial support individuals might receive from the Polish government.

Figure 5 shows the results of the four aforementioned scenarios in the form of flow charts between income decile groups. The starting point (the left-hand side of each chart) are the income groups of households with married couples aged 65+, i.e. before the simulated widowhood. The transition to the income deciles on the right hand side of each chart is the result of a change in equivalised disposable income in the widowhood simulation, under different support scenarios (I – IV). Thus, on the right hand side we observe the income groups in which the women would find themselves after the death of their husbands, conditional on the assumed system of support: without the survivor’s pension (system I, Figure 5a), with the survivor’s pension (system II, figure 5b), with the widow’s pension (system III, Figure 5c) and under the alternative system (system IV, Figure 5d).

Figure 5a shows that without any additional support the financial situation of older women would significantly deteriorate in the event of the death of their spouses (Figure 5a). The share of women whose income would place them in the lowest two decile groups would be as high as 54.7 percent (compared to 17.5 percent of married couples), and 82.8 percent of the widows would be in the bottom half of the income distribution (compared to 57 percent of married couples). The current survivor’s pension seems to protect a large proportion of women (Figure 5b), although the proportion of those who find themselves in the lowest two income decile groups still more than doubles relative to the situation of married couples, to 38.3 percent. Further, 74.9 percent of the widows would find themselves in the bottom half of the distribution. The proposed widow’s pension (Figure 5c) offers much greater support with a very high share of new widows remaining in the same decile or even moving to a higher income group. For example, with the widows’ pension 8.0 percent of women would be in the 9th income decile group and 5.3 percent in the 10th group, while, in comparison, 7.0 percent and 4.4 percent of married couples found themselves in these groups, respectively. 

Figure 5. Change in income decile among women aged 65+, following a hypothetical death of their husbands.

Source: Own calculations based on HBS 2021 using SIMPL model; graphs were created using: https://flourish.studio/

The proposed alternative system (Figure 5d) raises widows’ incomes compared to the current survivor’s pension system, but it is less generous than the system with the widow’s pension. Importantly however, it increases the incomes of widows in the lower income groups, which means that, compared to the current system, the number of women dropping to the poorest income groups following their husband’s death would be significantly reduced (24.0 percent would be in the lowest two deciles). At the same time 4.6 percent and 3.4 percent of the widows would be placed in the 9th and the 10th decile groups, respectively.

Table 2 shows the change in the poverty risk among the women in five considered scenarios, i.e. before they become widowed and after the hypothetical death of their husband under the considered four systems of support. 10.5 percent of married couples aged 65+ had equivalised disposable incomes which placed them below the poverty line calculated in the baseline system. After the simulated death of a husband, in a scenario without the survivor’s pension, the poverty rate among widows would increase to 35.3 percent, while the current survivor’s pension limits it to 20.7 percent. Poverty would be further reduced in the two systems with considered reforms: to 11.0 percent the widow’s pension system and to 11.8 percent in the alternative system.

Table 2. At-risk-of-poverty rates in the analysed scenarios.

Source: Own calculations based on HBS 2021 using the SIMPL model. Notes: The at-risk-of-poverty threshold is set at 60 percent of median equivalised disposable income in the baseline system.

Total Costs of the Considered Schemes

As mentioned above, the presented simulations take into account the conditions of current older couples. Therefore, we cannot directly calculate the consequences of the two suggested systems (the widow’s pension system and the alternative system) for those who are already widowed. This applies in particular to the present-day cost from the suggested changes to the widowhood support schemes to the public budget . In order to accurately estimate the changes in already widowed people’s incomes, we would have to have the information on the values of widow’s pensions and of pensions that their deceased spouses received when they were still alive, information that is not available in the HBS.

Nevertheless, our simulations allow us to compare the aggregated costs of support for women in the simulated widowhood scenarios under different support systems. Such calculations suggest that an implementation of the widow’s pension would increase the gross benefits received by widows by 34.2 percent compared to the current survivor’s pension system., while the alternative system would raise them by 14.7 percent. Applying these growth rates to the social security benefits currently received by widows and widowers (from the HBS data) implies additional annual costs of 24.1 bn PLN (5.6 bn EUR) under the widow’s pension system, and 10.5 bn PLN (2.5 bn EUR) under the alternative system.

Who Gains the Most?

From a distributional perspective, the simulated outcomes of the two suggested systems of support in widowhood can be compared to the baseline situation. In Figure 6 we show average changes in widowed women’s disposable income resulting from a change from the current system with survivor’s pension to the system with widow’s pension, and to our alternative design. Gross monthly survivor’s pensions of the widows are divided into seven groups, starting from 0-500 PLN up to 5501 PLN and more. One can clearly see that women who would, on average, gain the most from the implementation of the widow’s pension are those who already have a relatively high survivor’s pension in the current system. The average rise in disposable income (net) among those with gross monthly pensions between 4501 and 5500 PLN would be 1200 PLN, if widow’s pension was implemented. In contrast, women who receive 501-1500 PLN (gross) per month under the current survivor’s pension, would see a net monthly gain of about 350 PLN. These women would benefit slightly more under the alternative system – on average about 390 PLN, while much lower increases (on average about 220 PLN per month) would be faced by women in the 4501-5500 PLN group. Women in the last group, with gross monthly pensions of 5501 PLN and more under the current survivor’s pension system, would additionally gain even less in the alternative system – on average about 170 PLN. Thus overall, greater gains would accrue to those with lower current benefits in the alternative system.

Figure 6. Average increase in disposable income among widows by current survivor’s pensions’ value group.

Source: Own calculations based on HBS 2021 using the SIMPL model. Notes: Change in the disposable income with respect to the current system with survivor’s pension. 1PLN~0.23EUR.

In Figure 7 we categorise the sample of widows in terms of the range of their gains resulting from the two analysed reforms. The gains are calculated as changes in disposable income between the current system of support and the modelled reforms. We see that 20 percent of widows would gain over 1000 PLN extra per month as a result of the widow’s pension’s reform, while a further 24 percent would gain between 801 to 1000 PLN and 28 percent could expect to see a gain of between 601-800 PLN per month. The reform would leave the incomes of only about 12 percent of the widows unchanged – most of them are women who are not eligible for their own retirement pensions. In the alternative system the incomes of 34 percent of the analysed widows would remain unaffected. This group of women includes not only those without their own retirement pensions, but also those whose husbands received much higher pensions than themselves. This means that even if a widow’s retirement pension were to increase by 50 percent of the minimum pension, it would still be lower than 85 percent of her spouse’s retirement pension (see Figure 4a). In the alternative system about 17 percent of women in the sample would increase their disposable income by less than 400 PLN per month. For 28 percent, the increase would be in the range of between 400 and 600 PLN per month. While 21 percent would receive increased benefits under the alternative system, none of the hypothetical widows would receive more than 800 PLN per month.

Figure 7. Share of women by ranges of increases from the widow’s pension and the alternative scenario.

Source: Own calculations based on HBS 2021 using the SIMPL model. Notes: Change in the disposable income with respect to the current system with survivor’s pension. 1PLN~0.23EUR.

Figure 8 presents the average effect of the modelled reforms on disposable incomes of women in the sample, divided by income decile groups. Households were assigned to one of ten income groups based on their equivalised disposable income in the baseline system (i.e. according to the joint income of the couples). Figure 8 reflects the distribution of gains from the implementation of the widow’s pension or the alternative system. In the first case, the highest gains would be concentrated among the richest households. While women in the 8th and 9th income decile would, on average, receive an increase in their disposable income of about 1100 PLN per month, those in the 2nd decile group would, on average, receive only an additional 470 PLN per month. The distribution under the alternative system is far more concentrated on low income households. The highest average additional gain of about 420 PLN per month would be granted to widows from the 3rd income decile group, and benefits to women in the upper half of the income distribution would be significantly lower. Women in the top decile would gain, on average, only about 280 PLN per month. In many of the poorest households in our sample of couples, neither partner qualifies for a retirement pension. As a result, widows in this group would experience significantly lower average gains under both analyzed systems compared to those in higher income brackets.

Figure 8. Average gains due to the implementation of widow’s pension and the alternative system, by income decile group.

Source: Own calculations based on HBS 2021 using the SIMPL model. Notes: Change in the disposable income with respect to the current system with survivor’s pension. 1PLN~0.23EUR. Assignment to the income group was done prior to the hypothetical death of husbands.

Conclusion

In 2021 only 10 percent of the Polish widows and 8 percent of the Polish widowers aged 65 and more evaluated their material situation as rather bad, percentages that had dropped significantly since 2010. According to the HBS the majority of widowed individuals in Poland are also owners of the dwelling they live in. At the same time, income poverty among older persons living alone has increased in Poland since 2015, suggesting that despite the subjective evaluations, incomes of these older individuals – many of whom are widowed – have not managed to keep up with the dynamics of earnings and social transfers aimed at other demographic groups in Poland. As showed in our simulations, the current widowhood support system in Poland substantially limits the risk of poverty following the death of one’s partner. However, while the current survivor’s pension decreases the poverty risk from 35.3 percent (in a system without any support) to 20.7 percent, the risk of poverty among widows is still significantly higher compared to the risk faced by married couples.

The simulations analysed in this Policy Paper has covered the proposal of a support system reform, thewidow’s pension, which is currently discussed in the Polish Parliament. The simulations also covered an alternative alternative proposal putting more emphasis on poorer households. Both of these reforms would provide additional support to individuals affected by widowhood. In the case of the widow’s pension the average value of social security benefits would increase by 34.2 percent, whereas the alternative scenario would increase these benefits by 14.7 percent. If the pensions of current widows and widowers were to be increase by these proportions, the total annual cost to the public sector would amount to 24.1 bn PLN (5.6 bn EUR) and 10.5 bn PLN (2.5 bn EUR) per year, respectively. As shown above, the impact of these two reforms on poverty levels among widowed individuals would be very similar – the reforms would reduce it to 11.0 and 11.8 percent, respectively. The substantial difference in the total cost of these two alternatives is mainly due to the fact that the bulk of the additional benefits from the implementation of the widow’s pension is concentrated among high-income widows and widowers, while the highest profits in the modelled alternative system are targeted at households at the bottom of the income distribution.

If the aim of the potential legislative changes is to support widows and widowers in a difficult material situation and to reduce the extent of poverty, the widow’s pension currently discussed in the Polish Parliament seems to be far from ideal. As demonstrated in this Policy Paper, additional support addressed to widows and widowers in Poland can be designed in a way that substantially reduces the risk of poverty, with limitations on benefit increases to those already in a favourable financial situation. Our proposed alternative system would generate higher incomes for the poorest widows and widowers similar to the widow’s pension, while its cost to the public budget would be less than half of the cost of the discussed widow’s pension reform.

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