Swiss voters poised to back higher retirement age for women

Women’s retirement age will be aligned with that of men in Switzerland following the first major reform in 25 years. Keystone/Christof Schürpf

Voters look set to approve a proposed reform of the basic old-age pension scheme in a ballot billed as key in Swiss domestic politics.

This content was published on September 25, 2022 – 12:40

Projections show 51% of voters coming out in favour of raising women’s retirement age to 65 from 64 while about 56% approved an increase in value added tax (VAT), according to the gfs.bern research institute.

Partial results show more support in the main German-speaking part of the country than in the French- and Italian-speaking regions. Final results are expected in a few hours.


Opponents of the reform have conceded defeat, denouncing the result as an “insult for women”. They said women had to pay a high price and were still the victims of wage discrimination.

In a first reaction, Vania Alleva of the Unia trade union vowed to fight any further attempt to raise the retirement age.

Speaking on SRF public radio, political scientist Urs Bieri, co-director of the research institute, said a majority of women had probably rejected the reform. 

At stake was an overhaul of the mandatory old-age pension scheme for men and women to ensure its long-term funding and adapt it to the ageing population and a shrinking workforce.

The scheme, introduced in 1948, is financed through salary deductions in a pay-as-you go system. It is part of Switzerland’s social security scheme, which consists of two additional pillars: the occupational pension funds and individual savings.

Benefitting everyone

A majority in parliament, the government and the business community came out in favour of the reform. They argued that the state pension system, also referred to as the first pillar, is at risk and needs additional funding to the tune of CHF18.5 billion ($18.8 billion) over the next ten years to prevent it from collapsing.

Interior Minister Alain Berset described the reform, which includes compensation payments and incentives for flexible retirement, as a political compromise. He said it is in the interest of everyone – also of women.

Campaigners also stressed that the reform is an act of solidarity by consumers, who would have to pay a higher VAT rate on products and services to ensure the future of Switzerland’s key social security scheme.

Women pay price

The Social Democratic Party together with their traditional allies, the trade unions, as well as the Greens, had challenged the parliamentary decision to a nationwide vote by collecting the necessary number of signatures.

Campaigners argued there is no need for a reform which comes at the expense of women and dismissed the financial forecast for the pension fund as too pessimistic.

An increase in consumer tax at a time of price hikes, notably for electricity and health insurance premiums, would further strain purchasing power, according to the political left.

Mutual accusations

The grassroots of both sides appear to have made up their minds at an early stage of the campaign, as the issues at stake have been on the political agenda for years.

Nonetheless, emotions have been running high in the last few weeks, with supporters and opponents trading accusations of circulating misleading information and engaging in scaremongering.

Over the past 25 years, a series of proposals to reform the pension system has been rejected by parliament and/or voters, most recently in 2017.

At least three other proposals are in the political pipeline to revamp the Swiss old-age pension scheme. They include the use of National Bank surpluses and an additional monthly pension payment to help less well-off elderly beneficiaries. Another initiative aims to raise the retirement age of both men and women to 67 and adapt it to the average life expectancy.

Votes on September 25

Voters had the final say on four issues: a ban on intensive livestock farming, raising women’s retirement age to 65 and an increase in VAT (both as part of an overhaul of the state old-age pension scheme) as well as a reform of the withholding tax.

It was the third and final set of nationwide votes in Switzerland this year.

About 5.5 million citizens, including registered Swiss expats, were eligible to take part in the ballots.

Votes on a wide range of different issues also took place in numerous cantons and municipalities across the country.

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2022-09-25 05:38:21

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