From democratisation to marketisation: A comparative historical study of Swedish, German and British pension systems and funds

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This thesis began by posing two sets of research questions. The first set had two main aims. The first aim of the analysis is to uncover the role that power asymmetries play in institutional development (innovation, reproduction, change) and the second aim is to identify what accounts for institutional development, when and by whom. In order to answer these questions, I adopt a three-dimensional power perspective along with the historical analysis of ‘institutional complementarity’ domains. In regard to this question, the thesis argues that the mobilisation of power resources at all three levels can be an important indicator for understanding the process as well as the direction of institutional change.

The second set of questions aims to clarify why the three national pension systems followed different trajectories, and whether these trajectories maintain their different routes or converge. The second aim is to explain why the three national pension funds followed different investment strategies, and whether these strategies continue to differ across the instituted actors. The thesis identifies that despite the original distinctive logics of the three pension systems, the recent pension reforms strongly promoted the individualisation of risk, the enhancement of privately managed funded schemes and the investment of the pension savings in equities. The rationale for diverting their investments as well as the logic of the pension system is essentially located in the ability of actors to collect pension savings and decide upon their investment. I argue that this power struggle was not merely a matter of redistribution but also over the control of financial capital and in principle over which logic dominated the investment of pension funds.

The thesis explores historically the development of pension rights and the role of pension funds within the national political economies. The findings of the thesis identify that there has been an important shift in terms of power relations among employers, unions, financiers and state actors and along with these changes, the empirical findings suggest an empowerment of market tools for governing pension systems and funds. The argument of the thesis holds that institutional legacies of pensions systems retain their importance in framing policy solutions and responses but at the same time recognises that paths alone cannot explain the process of institutional development. Instead, I argue that institutional legacies should not be understood as path dependent drivers that nurture inertia or stability but instead as actively reproducing power dynamics that either enable or constraint actors’ ability to mobilise resources and exercise power.

The thesis contributes to social policy and historical institutionalism literature in three ways. Methodologically the thesis contributes twofold to comparative social policy research. First, this research operationalises its holistic theoretical approach through the innovative application of ‘institutional complementarity’ as an analytical tool that examines neighbouring institutional domains of corporate governance, financial systems, political systems and industrial relations. Analytically, the diachronical approach and the explicit pursuit of ‘systemic process analysis’ are innovative attempts that posit time and sequence as part of the empirical reality and adopt an ‘open-ended’ understanding of causality. Finally, the thesis contributes empirically through the incorporation of the financial actors along with the other “usual suspects” (e.g. unions, employers, state actors) in triggering institutional change. It is interesting to note that despite the well documented literature on welfare state development, few studies explored historically and comparatively the role of financial actors.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
  • Papadopoulos, Theodoros, Supervisor, External person
  • Carmel, Emma, Advisor, External person
  • Longstreth, Frank, Advisor, External person
Thesis sponsors
Award date16 Dec 2009
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Cite this