This article is designed to provide an overview of the U.S. retirement income security system from a comparative law perspective. Like many countries, the U.S. has a three tier pension or retirement income system, with the three tiers consisting of (1) Social Security, (2) employment-based pensions, and (3) individual savings. Thus, superficially, the U.S. retirement income security system resembles that of many around the world. Yet, in other ways, such as its focus on individual rights and responsibility, the U.S. system is unique.

The article begins by discussing the nine guiding principles of the U.S. Social Security system as identified by the late Robert Ball. It then describes the principal elements of employment-based pension plans in the U.S and provides a brief overview of individual savings. The article then turns to the values reflected in the U.S. retirement income security system. It discusses how the U.S. system does, and does not, reflect the European values of (1) responsibility, (2) protection, (3) solidarity, (4) nondiscrimination, and (5) participation.

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2011


Notes/Citation Information

Comparative Labor Law & Policy Journal, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Fall 2011), pp. 5-48



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.