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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Dynamics

Pillar 2: Demography and Public Policy

In this pillar, we are interested in understanding how demographic changes affect public policy across countries. More specifically, we investigate how policy decisions targeting demographic shifts are actually made and how interest groups, institutional and partisan veto players as well as international developments affect policy reactions to demographic changes.



Demographic shifts create important problem pressures for the established policy order and welfare systems in contemporary democracies. For instance, pension and health care systems are under pressure to adjust to the aging of societies. Educational and labour market policies have to be equally adapted to allow for integrating migrants. Family policies have to address low fertility rates, accommodate changing family structures and ease tensions between work and family life. If governments adjust to demographic changes, policy decisions often have consequences for the distribution and redistribution of income and labour market chances. Most obviously, cuts to the pension systems affect older generations while investments into education benefit the young. Also, reforms of labour market policies have group-specific effects. The liberalization of dismissal protection and the introduction of fixed-term contracts and agency work has affected vulnerable groups on the labour market, particularly the young, women and migrants more strongly than older and male workers (Schwander & Häusermann 2013). This has often reinforced labour market segmentation along demographic lines while increasing pressure on decision-makers to adjust public policies to protect these new social groups (Häusermann & Schwander 2012a; Hinrichs & Jessoula 2012).

Research projects in this pillar will analyse how policies addressing demographic changes are actually made. Decision-makers need to process the increasingly complex information regarding the effects of demographic changes on social welfare and economic systems. Dissertation projects will therefore provide a systematic analysis of the impact of demographic shifts on policy change. First, we will analyse the effects of aging, migration and changing family structures on policy decisions and how policy reactions are conditioned by policy dynamics and administrative capacities. Dissertation projects will amongst others aim to identify factors that explain the variance of policy adjustment to demographic pressure. Second, we will study how policy reactions to demographic changes are affected by interest groups representing the preferences of different segments of society. Interest groups are important intermediary organizations that represent special interests such as workers, women or chemical corporations in order to influence policy decisions in their favour. Previous research has shown that interest groups have a considerable impact on policy outcomes by supplying information, mobilizing their supporters or providing valuable campaign contributions (e.g. Baumgartner et al. 2009; Dür, Bernhagen & Marshall 2015; Giger & Klüver 2016; Klüver 2013; Marier 2008). However, little is known about how interest groups shape policy responses to demographic changes.

Third, dissertation projects will amongst others study how institutional veto points and partisan veto players affect policy decisions targeting recent demographic changes. Research has shown that decision-makers are importantly constrained by institutional veto points and partisan veto players, such as second chambers or coalition partners (Immergut 1990; Tsebelis 2002), but little attention has been paid to how they affect policy reactions to demographic shifts. While parties in single-party governments can autonomously enact policy decisions to address demographic challenges, coalition parties first of all need to find a consensus with their coalition partners who often have diverging policy preferences. At the same time, a government facing an opposing majority in the second parliamentary chamber has a very hard time to promote wide-ranging policy reforms (see e.g. Bräuninger & König 1999). PhD projects will therefore shed systematic light on how institutional veto points and partisan veto players affect policy reactions to demographic change.  

Finally, policy-making today can furthermore not be understood without taking into account European integration and international developments. For instance, a huge share of the political decisions are no longer taken at the national, but at the European level. Accordingly, scholars have shown that national policies are considerably influenced by policy-making in Brussels (see e.g. the contributions in Featherstone & Radaelli 2003; Green Cowles, Caporaso & Risse 2001). Similarly, it has been demonstrated that international diffusion processes play an important role in public policy-making as policy change in one country is often influenced by previous changes in other countries (e.g. Brooks 2007; Gilardi 2010; Gilardi, Füglister & Luyet 2009; Holzinger, Knill & Sommerer 2008; Swank 2006). However, it is largely under researched how policies addressing recent demographic changes are affected by European integration or diffusion processes. In order to understand better policy reactions to demographic changes, research projects in this pillar will therefore also study the effect of European integration and international diffusion processes on policy reactions to recent demographic changes.


Thus, PhD projects in this research pillar will address three key aspects of public policy:


  1. How are policy decisions made that target demographic shifts?
  2. How do interest groups affect policy reactions to demographic changes?
  3. How do institutional and partisan veto players as well as European integration and international diffusion processes affect policy reactions to demographic changes?


Potential Dissertation Advisors