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Get to Know the Gateway: Institutional Rules Explorer

Written by: David Knapp

Published on: Mar 31, 2021

#Get-To-Know-The-Gateway #Institutional-Rules-Explorer #Pension-Rules

The Gateway to Global Aging is adding a new feature – the Institutional Rules Explorer. The Explorer provides contextual details about the policy and institutional arrangements of particular countries over time. The initial release of the Explorer is focused old-age retirement policies – including old-age pensions, social assistance, and health insurance. The Institutional Rules Explorer was motivated by the rapid evolution of policies affecting older people across the world. As the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) closes in on being 30 years old and many of the international network of studies (HRS-INS) cover more than a decade, understanding policy in place at the time of the survey has become more demanding for researchers.

Why are we tracking past policy? Individuals make choices based on current policies and the outcomes we see today may reflect responses to past policies. When looking at respondent’s answers in surveys, these policies are important for researchers to recognize and understand. Collecting this contextual information in the Institutional Rules Explorer will support researchers who want to understand or use policy change in their research and provide context for longitudinal or cross-country differences. While the Explorer is focused on retirement policies today, our goal is to expand the Explorer to other technically complicated aging policy areas, such as long-term care and the responses to COVID-19.

The key dimensions to the Explorer are country and time. We prioritize data collection for each country based on its first interview wave and are continuing to expand our data collection back in time to 1992, the earliest survey date in the HRS-INS.Currently the Explorer includes institutional details for 5 different types of policies as summarized in Box 1.

Box 1: Current policies covered

  • Public Own Old-Age Benefits
  • Public Spousal Old-Age Benefits
  • Public Survivor Old-Age Benefits
  • Public Old-Age Social Assistance
  • Public Old-Age Health Insurance

Currently focused on retirement policies, the Explorer highlights several dimensions of important old-age support, including public pension benefits based on one’s own earnings history, spouse and survivor public pension benefits from that earnings history, social assistance – which are public benefits targeting low-income individuals regardless of past work or contribution history, and finally public health benefits for people at older ages.

When you open up the Institutional Rules Explorer page, you're greeted with a variety of options across the top of the browser including “Select countries”, “Select policies to compare”, and “Select range of years.” Below this, you will see an overview of all policies and countries and highlights of major changes since 1992. As you make selections for specific countries, policies, and years, the website will update to display what you have selected.

Comparison across countries at a point-in-time

To get a high-level comparison of a particular policy, you can select a particular policy of interest from the Select policies to compare option. After clicking on Compare the Explorer will display high-level detail for key elements of this policy at different time points. For example, if you select “Public Own Old-Age Benefits” and narrow the time to 2004 (when the Survey on Health, Retirement and Aging in Europe started), you can view key elements of the policy, including eligibility criteria, statutory retirement age, and whether or not there is an incentive to delay the receipt of benefits. As the Explorer demonstrates, old-age benefit eligibility criteria differ substantially from country to country. In some countries, like France in Figure 1, benefit eligibility criteria are quite complex and include referring to additional tables or formulas. When this is true, the table, figure, or formula is made available in a downloadable PDF which captures detailed policies over time (discussed below). At any time, if you want additional information on a particular policy, you can select “All details” to see an expanded set of information that includes such details as:

  • A general description of the country’s policy
  • Key changes by year
  • Detailed eligibility criteria
  • Benefit formulas and adjustments

Note that on each page, we have an option to Download table [CSV] that will allow the user to export what they are currently viewing and View Sources which includes sources where information was collected or other useful references. Referenced websites are archived in case the web link to source has changed or is no longer working.


Comparison across time for a specific country

To get detailed information on policy changes within a country, you can select a particular country and policy of interest from the Select countries and Select policies to compare options and then select a time period from the Selection range of years slider. As an example, in Figure 2 we select Germany, Public Own Old-Age Benefits from 2004 to 2016 and then click Compare. For old-age benefits, we see that there was a major policy change in 2007 as the bar across the top has a break in this year. The policy defaults to the earliest part of the time frame (as indicated by the dark green bar), but if you select another period (e.g., 2007-2016) as in Figure 3, the elements of the policy that have changed since the previous period will be highlighted in green.

Technical details across time

While the Explorer provides a high-level overview of policies and how they have changed over time, many policies are too detailed to concisely present all relevant information. As a result, for all included policies and countries there exists a detailed policy document that covers policy details for all collected years. This detailed policy document can be downloaded by clicking the Download all details [PDF] button from any detailed policy view. The documents (e.g., see Figure 4 for Germany) have a parallel structure to what is available on the Explorer, but they provide much more detail, including formulas for how to compute benefits (if applicable), tables reflecting key elements of policy, and occasionally examples where policies are particularly complicated.

Feedback & Next Steps

The Gateway to Global Aging is committed to expanding and improving the Institutional Rules Explorer. Box 2 details the current countries included in the Explorer and plans to expand in the coming months. If you would like to contribute, make suggestions, or if you identify errors, please let us know by emailing the Institutional Rules Explorer Editor at

Box 2: Countries included in the Institutional Rules ExplorerCurrent

  • France
  • Germany
  • Poland
  • United Kingdom
  • United States


  • Italy
  • South Korea
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