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Lifecourse determinants and incomes in retirement: Belgium and the United Kingdom compared



In this paper, the impact of lifecourse family and labour market experiences on household incomes of older people in Belgium and the United Kingdom (UK) is analysed. To this end, panel data and life-history information from the Panel Study of Belgian Households and the British Household Panel Survey are combined. The results show that old-age income is indeed influenced by previous lifecourse experiences, and that differences between Belgium and the UK can be explained in terms of (the development over time of) welfare regime arrangements. Family experiences have a larger impact on old-age incomes in ‘male-breadwinner’ Belgium, while in Britain labour market events are more important. As social transfers in Britain are more aimed at poverty prevention and less at income replacement, a ‘scarring effect’ of unemployment persists even into old age. Also, the more of one's career is spent in blue-collar work or self-employment/farming, the lower the income in old age. A new finding is that, notwithstanding the high level of ‘de-commodification’ achieved by the Belgian welfare state, this effect turns out to be significantly stronger in Belgium than in the UK. Compared to the market, the welfare state is hence a more efficient ‘mechanism’ of stratification for incomes in old age.


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Address for correspondence: Caroline Dewilde, OZ Achterburgwal 185, 1012 DK Amsterdam, The Netherlands. E-mail:


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