Country Listing

Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union


In the 1980s, the Soviet government maintained a comprehensive system of social security and social insurance that included old-age retirement and veterans pensions, disability benefits and sick leave compensation, maternity leave and allowances, and subsidies to multichildren and low-income families. Soviet workers did not contribute directly to their social security and insurance coverage; funding was provided by the government and from compulsory deductions from industrial and agricultural enterprises. Most welfare funds were spent on retirement pensions and disability benefits.

Pension System

In 1987 the Soviet Union had 56.8 million pensioners; of this number, 40.5 million were retired with full pensions on the basis of twenty years of service and age eligibility--sixty for men and fifty-five for women. Reduced pensions were paid to those who met the age eligibility requirement and had worked at least five years, three of them uninterrupted, just prior to retirement. Miners and those working under other arduous or hazardous conditions could retire five to ten years earlier. In 1987 Soviet authorities were reducing the retirement age for other groups as well.

Pensions, on the whole, were quite low. The average monthly pension in 1986 was 75.1 rubles, with considerable disparity between the average monthly pension of blue- and white-collar workers (averaging 81.2 rubles for the two categories of workers) and collective farm workers (48 rubles). In fact, the average pension was only slightly above the unofficial level of poverty--or "underprovisioning" (maloobespechennost')--of 70 rubles per month per person. It was likely that millions of pensioners lived under or close to this poverty threshold. Indeed, pensioners made up the majority of the poor. According to figures published in an official Soviet newspaper, in 1985 a minimum of 13.7 million pensioners were receiving pensions far below 70 rubles per month. About 12 million old-age pensioners continued to work, many of them in extremely low-paying jobs, for example, as cloakroom attendants in restaurants and theaters or sweeping metro station interiors and street pavements. Retirees who lived with their children (a common situation, given the extreme housing shortage) obtained some financial relief and in return helped with housework, cooking, and care of small grandchildren. In 1988 about 1 million pensioners lived alone and were by far the worst off, living in almost total neglect and near destitution.

Not all pensions were this low, however. A special category of "personal pensions" could be awarded for outstanding political, cultural, scientific, or economic service to the state. In 1988 over 500,000 personal pensioners, including essentially all of the CPSU administrative elite, were receiving pensions of 250 rubles, and even up to 450 rubles, per month. A separate but similar retirement program, known as long-service pensions, was maintained for some groups of white-collar workers, including teachers, academic and medical personnel, and military retirees. Lowered retirement ages and/or pension augmentations were provided to disabled workers and mothers of large families.

The government operated a small network of homes for the elderly, invalids, and disabled children. In 1986 these "total-care" facilities accommodated 388,000 people, but another 90,000 were on waiting lists.

In 1988-89 the State Committee for Labor and Social Problems (Gosudarstvennyi komitet po trudu i sotsial'nim voprosam-- Goskomtrud) was developing a new pension law to replace the outdated laws of 1956 and 1964. Although not expected to become fully effective before 1991, the new law envisioned a guaranteed subsistence wage, a higher ceiling on old-age pensions, and regular cost-of-living increases. Workers could also obtain supplemental pension coverage through a voluntary payroll deduction program introduced in January 1988 and administered by the Main Administration for State Insurance.

Data as of May 1989

Country Listing

Soviet Union Table of Contents