This paper reviews recent developments in pensions policy in a range of countries and identifies some of the main forces driving the policy reform agenda. The paper brings a new perspective to some familiar issues, drawing specifically on the research and policy experience of Australia, China and the United States. Its basic message is that to fully understand the forces influencing national pension systems, it is necessary to understand the forces and expectations that are specific to each country. Three main themes are addressed: demographic change; financing of pensions; and the role of politics. It is argued that all three must be included within any analysis of pension reform and that each is important - despite the emphasis given recently to the first issue. Different approaches to pension reform in different countries reflect the values and culture of each country and once these become embedded in a pension scheme, they take on their own momentum. This point is illustrated with examples drawn from Australia and China, both of which have unique pension systems compared with many other countries. The evidence discussed relates to the role of means testing and the balance between formal and informal means of support in old age. In all countries, pension reform options must address demographic changes and be financially sound, but they must also be politically sustainable. There are challenges arising from all three factors, but to portray these as a 'crisis' for prevailing pension systems does little to aid the search for sensible responses.