When the president ends their term of office in several countries, they receive a pension for life. Why is this? (One guess I have is that it could possibly be to secure their future so their presidential decisions are not affected by eventual future financial troubles.)

What were the problems when the president didn't receive a pension?

  • 6
    Not exactly on point, but France has the practice of including all living former Presidents, ex officio, in the Council of State (basically, the highest body overseeing public law and administrative law with both cabinet meet discussion/policy setting features, and quasi-judicial features).
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 19:13
  • @ohwilleke doesn't France also give an automatic pension to ministers? Schwartzenberg lasted one week as Health Minister, after stating he was pro-legalization for cannabis in 1988 and I believe his pension was upheld. Commented Dec 11, 2021 at 0:18
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica I don't know one way or the other.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Dec 11, 2021 at 3:34
  • @italian Based minister Commented Dec 11, 2021 at 21:36
  • I want to write an answer that says "In some countries, it's normal that any salaried job comes with an occupational pension", but I have a nagging feeling that what OP is really asking about are features of post-presidential payment that differ from a normal occupational pension...? Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 12:17

5 Answers 5


At least in the US, where a presidential pension was only instituted in 1958, it was seen as embarrassing for a former president to be struggling financially. Per Wikipedia:

Upon leaving the presidency [in 1953], [Harry S.] Truman ... taught occasional courses at universities, including Yale, where he was a Chubb Fellow visiting lecturer in 1958. In 1962, Truman was a visiting lecturer at Canisius College. As a former president, Truman decided that he did not wish to be on any corporate payroll, believing that taking advantage of such financial opportunities would diminish the integrity of the nation's highest office. He also turned down numerous offers for commercial endorsements.

Once Truman left the White House, his only income was his old army pension: $112.56 per month (equivalent to $1,089 in 2020). Former members of Congress and the federal courts received a federal retirement package; President Truman himself ensured that former servants of the executive branch of government received similar support. In 1953, however, there was no such benefit package for former presidents, and he received no pension for his Senate service.


In 1958, Congress passed the Former Presidents Act, offering a $25,000 yearly pension to each former president, and it is likely that Truman's claim to be in difficult financial straits played a role in the law's enactment.

The current presidential salary is $400,000 (but, it's complicated) and the pension is $219,000 annually (ibid.), as well as many other benefits like office space, treatment at military hospitals, and Secret Service protection.

  • 40
    To add on to this: if you believe, as Truman did, that profiting from being a former president diminished the integrity of the office, then a presidential pension makes it easier and encourages former presidents to resist those enticements.
    – divibisan
    Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 17:12
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    Yeah, in Chile happened the same thing with president Patricio Aylwin. After his term ended in 1994, he suffered financial straits and presidential pension was instituted. It looked embarrassing too. Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 17:57
  • 2
    Considering how many millionaires there are in Congress, I suppose many of them would struggle financially at $25k/year...
    – gerrit
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 8:52
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    @gerrit $25k/year in 1958, using the comparision for the army pension in the quote, I would guess that corresponds to approximately $250k/year in 2020 (harsh, but survivable ;-)
    – quarague
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 9:38
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    @gerrit The law doesn't specify an amount, it says "Each former President shall be entitled for the remainder of his life to receive from the United States a monetary allowance at a rate per annum, payable monthly by the Secretary of the Treasury, which is equal to the annual rate of basic pay, as in effect from time to time, of the head of an executive department" (bold mine) archives.gov/about/laws/former-presidents.html EX1 right now is $219,200 opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/salaries-wages/… reduced to $203,500 on pay freeze Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 16:13

The details depend on the country, of course.

In Germany, a former president receives not just a pension (called honorary / honor pay), but also some staff, offices, etc. for what are called "remaining tasks" from the office. Basically, the former president is expected to act in a manner consistent with the dignity of the office and the interests of the nation. They tend to be older, with the presidency coming at the end of a long career, which makes them more of elder statesmen than active politicians.

In the United States, Jimmy Carter was one of the more active ex-presidents in recent times. He got involved with North Korea and the Middle East as a credible spokesperson not directly connected to the then-current administration. This allowed him to visit places and say things an active government member might not have said.

  • What do Jimmy Carter's activities have anything to do with the president's pension?
    – r13
    Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 18:09
  • 17
    They show that he remained an asset for the following governments, and thus rated a salary rather than a pension. Except that calling it a salary would have made him less effective.
    – o.m.
    Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 18:50
  • 2
    @r13, for exactly that reason it was a good idea to give him a pension. And other presidents before and after acted in similar roles.
    – o.m.
    Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 19:03
  • 2
    @ohwilleke: A similar Emeritus status exists also in Germany as well as many other European countries. My guess is that this is based on the idea that science is, in the original sense of the word, a vocation for life.
    – Schmuddi
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 8:36
  • 1
    do remember that what Carter did was outside the control of and certainly not endorsed by the US government on many occasions. He merely used his status as a former president to push for political agendas he personally liked.
    – jwenting
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 14:49

Speaking generally, one reason which would make this a beneficial feature of a political system could be to make it less important for the president to be afraid about destitution after their term; and thus make them less susceptible to corruption.

For example, after her 12-year period in office, Angela Merkel will receive 65% of her compensation until the end of her life, which is the maximum amount possible for someone in her role. In her case that's roughly 15.000€ monthly. This means that at no point during her active time as chancellor was she ever forced to care much about what she'd be doing after her mandate was over, and presuming good character, there was little monetary, objective reason for her to bow to any less-than-decent offers during the time when even small decisions would possibly have made huge amounts for some company or other party. Or to jockey for some other position within some company or the political system after their prestigious position is over...


The United Kingdom only instituted an ex-Prime Minister's allowance in 1991 and it is still limited to 50% of salary. There has been a lot of unfavorable press directed at a couple of recent PMs (Tony Blair & David Cameron) and their post-office "business consultancies" where they are clearly aiming for large-scale personal profit.

At least one columnist in the New Statesman feels that a larger pension & continued govt support might have prevented at least some of this and given the opportunity for them to remain statesmen with a higher purpose.


There are many reasons, but they boil down to a few most relevant categories

  1. Respect - Attaining the most prestigious job on the planet arguably should automatically come with financial security.

  2. Image - Imagine the scenario of a former president having to sell personal possessions to keep bill collectors at bay, or being for-closed on.

  3. Security - Keeps him/her less tempted to write some book divulging secrets or from having to work for a shady arms dealer who does business in the Middle East.

  4. Employment options limited - Most come from senatorial or other elected positions that they can't return to.

  5. Tradition - This was decided when being President did not automatically guarantee millions in speaking deals

  • For United States presidents only ("the most prestigious job on the planet" and "being President did automatically guarantee millions in speaking deals")? Can you make it clear in your answer? (But without "Edit:", "Update:", or similar - the answer should appear as if it was written today). Commented Dec 11, 2021 at 14:06

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