About the Project

Welcome to the website of the academic research project titled ‘Paltry Pensions’ in the Context of the Sense of Social Justice and the Goals of Pension Policy. A Multidimensional Sociological Analysis. Below please find details about the project.

Funding: National Science Centre, Poland, OPUS 21 competition, grant number 2021/41/B/HS6/04416

Host institution: Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences

Principal investigator: Danuta Życzyńska-Ciołek, PhD

Contact to the research team: emeryt@ifispan.edu.pl

Start date: February 1, 2022, planned duration: 48 months


The principal objective of the project is to investigate the problem of the so-called ‘paltry pensions’ (emerytury groszowe), i.e. pensions paid by the (Polish) Social Security Institution and lower than the minimum pension, from the perspective of the sense of social justice and the goals of pension policy.

Most Poles resign from their occupational activity around the age of 60 (women) or 65 (men) and start to earn income from pension benefits. The most important reform of the main Polish pension system in the last decades was conducted in 1999. One of the fundamental changes was a transition from the defined benefit system to the defined contribution system. The latter is characterized by the fact that the amount of the received retirement benefit is closely linked with the amount of contributions paid to the system in the past by a particular person. There is no longer the requirement to have an adequately long contribution period in order to be eligible for the retirement pension, and now anyone who has ever paid any contribution is entitled to receive that benefit. In consequence, in the recent years, press reports have appeared about extremely low ‘paltry pensions’. The system allows for increasing such a benefit to the minimum pension (which is currently equal to PLN 1780.96 [about 413 euros] gross), but this requires the pensioner to prove an adequately long contribution period (20–25 years).

The new system includes Poles born in 1949 or later. The number of people who receive a retirement pension lower than the minimum is rapidly growing. As of December 2023, there were 396.8 thousand of them, and they constituted 9.7% of all the ‘new-system’ pensioners. However, we do not know much about the life situations that stand behind the fact of receiving a ‘paltry pension’.

Upon the disbursement of the first such benefits, in the public debate (statements of politicians, officials or experts, mass media reports, and comments given on such reports), opinions started to appear which show various attitudes to the axiological assumptions and the effectiveness of a system that produces such low pensions. When referring to effectiveness, we mean whether the system meets the objectives of the pension policy, which – according to the European Commission – can be defined as follows: providing adequate income in old age while ensuring financial sustainability and maximizing employment.

When it comes to social justice, there are many formulas present in philosophy, social sciences literature, and the public discourse. In reference to the pension system, we can roughly divide those principles into two groups: the social, solidarity formula (‘each person according to their needs’, ‘each person equally’) and the liberal, individualistic formula, which is meritocratic to a certain extent (‘each person according to their contribution’ or ‘each person according to their merits’). This competition is clearly noticeable in the Polish public debate but has never been summarized or analyzed from the sociological point of view.

Given the above, we formulate the following research questions:

  • Which categories of life situations can we distinguish in the biographies of people receiving pensions lower than the minimum pension, considering (a) their life pathways (related to occupational career, family, health, etc.), (b) the strategies they used in the past (i.e. before reaching the age of retirement) to provide means of subsistence, (c) any strategies they used in the past with the view of financial security for the following years, and (d) objective living conditions and the means of subsistence of such people?
  • Are the legal regulations giving rise to the provision of pensions lower than the minimum considered (by the pensioners who receive such benefits, by experts and by the general public) to be socially just and effective when referred to the objectives of the pension policy? If not, then what changes should be introduced to make these regulations more equitable and effective?

Tasks planned for the project include:

  • analyzing available data from the Social Security Institution and nationwide panel surveys (primarily SHARE and POLPAN),
  • conducting qualitative interviews with (a) people receiving pensions below the minimum and (b) experts,
  • discourse analysis based on selected documents from the Polish Parliamentary Corpus and media information from four online news portals,
  • conducting a survey on a nationwide random representative sample on knowledge of the current pension system and its evaluation in the context of a sense of social justice.