2017 Global Retirement Index

The United States fell three places to No. 17 among 43 countries in the 2017 Global Retirement Index, published today by Natixis Global Asset Management.

 

That outcome highlights a growing concern for a country whose aging Baby Boomers represent a huge influx of new retirees supported by a smaller group of younger working-age adults.

 

Now in its fifth year, the Natixis Global Retirement Index seeks to provide a measure of how supportive the climate is for retirement across nations in the developed world.

 

It creates an overall retirement security score based on 18 key drivers of retiree wellbeing across four broad categories: Finances, Health, Material Wellbeing and Quality of Life.

 

According to data compiled by Natixis, several factors affected the overall score for the U.S. (72%) in this year’s index:

  • Lagging life expectancy in a healthcare-rich nation: The U.S. maintained its No. 7 ranking in Health, its highest among the sub-indices, in part because it spends more per capita on healthcare than any other country in the index, and it has the sixth-highest score for insured expenditure on health, which measures the portion of that expenditure paid for by insurance. However, the U.S. ranked only 30th in life expectancy, as Americans’ longevity failed to keep pace with top-ranked Japan and other nations, suggesting its health expenditures may not be yielding the same return on investment.
  • Growing gap in economic opportunity: The U.S. has the fifth-highest income per capita among all nations in the index, but it registered higher levels of income inequality compared to last year, yielding the sixth lowest score for income equality in the Material Wellbeing category. The results suggest that millions of lower-income Americans are missing out on that economic growth and may struggle to save for a secure retirement as a result.
  • American retirees are less happy: The U.S. experienced a slight decline on Quality of Life measures since 2016, chiefly attributed to a poorer showing for the happiness indicator, which is based on surveys that evaluate the quality of retirees’ current lives. However, the U.S. improved on environmental factors in part due to cleaner air.
  • Strength of financial institutions: The U.S. again ranked in the top 10 for Finances, largely due to improvements in bank non-performing loans and federal debt levels relative to other nations. However, the U.S. has the seventh-highest public debt as a percentage of GDP of all countries in the index, and an increasing ratio of retirees to employment-age adults (old-age dependency), putting pressure on government resources such as Social Security and Medicare. At the same time, low interest rates and tax pressures negatively affects savings rates and income in retirement.

“This year’s Global Retirement Index is an important reminder that retirement security is a complex, multi-dimensional issue that is vastly influenced by a nation’s policies, politics and economics,” said Ed Farrington, Executive Vice President of Retirement for Natixis Global Asset Management.

 

“The population is getting older, making retirement security one of the most pressing social issues facing the world. Factors such as increasing longevity, income inequality and the impact of monetary policy on personal savings and pension liabilities, are challenging the long-standing assumptions about how Americans plan for and live in retirement.”

 

The Best Performers

The top 10 countries in the 2017 index include eight from Western Europe, including:

  • Norway at No. 1
  • followed by Switzerland, Iceland, Sweden, Germany (No. 7)
  • Denmark (No. 8)
  • the Netherlands (No. 9)
  • Luxembourg (No. 10)
  • New Zealand (No. 5)
  • Australia (No. 6).

 

The top 20 nations, along with their standing in last year’s 2016 Global Retirement Index, are:

1. Norway (No. 1 in 2016)

6. Australia (6)

11. Canada (10)

16. Czech Republic (18)

2. Switzerland (2)

7. Germany (7)

12. Finland (11)

17. United States (14)

3. Iceland (3)

8. Denmark (12)

13. Austria (9)

18. United Kingdom (17)

4. Sweden (5)

9. Netherlands (8)

14. Ireland (16)

19. France (20)

5. New Zealand (4)

10. Luxembourg (13)

15. Belgium (15)

20. Israel (19)

 

These countries benefit from a combination of strong social programs, widely accessible healthcare and low levels of income inequality.

 

On a regional basis, even though Western Europe dominates the top 10 rankings, Western Europe collectively ranks lower than North America (Canada and the U.S.). This reflects the challenges of other countries in Western Europe – mainly, Italy, Portugal, and Spain – as they continue to struggle with financial setbacks.

 

The index also illustrates the “Great Divergence,” as some economists call it, between Western Europe and North America, on the one hand, and the rest of the world on the other.

 

North America’s overall score was 73%, and Western Europe’s was 70%. The next highest regions were Eastern Europe and Central Asia with a score of 50% and Asia Pacific at 34%.

 

Longer lifespans. Larger liabilities.

The rapid growth of the senior population is forcing many countries to rethink their public pension systems. Pension managers are under pressure as increased lifespans and a long period of historically low interest rates have increased liabilities and created a funding shortfall.

 

The world’s six largest pension saving systems, which includes the United States, are expected to reach a $224 trillion gap by 2050, a study by the World Economic Forum shows (https://www.weforum.org/press/2017/05/global-pension-timebomb-funding-gap-set-to-dwarf-world-gdp/ ).

 

The threat of unfunded liabilities has led to a significant change in employer retirement plan offerings, with many organisations freezing traditional pension plans and transitioning to plans that shifts the liabilities for retirement funding from the employer to the employee.

 

The economics of retirement security: a global view

The country comparison provided in the Global Retirement Index is intended to spur a larger discussion about what is needed to improve retirement security globally.

 

In the first of three supplemental reports to the Index, Dave Lafferty, Chief Market Strategist for Natixis Global Asset Management in Boston, and Philippe Waechter, Head of Economic Research for Natixis Asset Management in Paris, discuss the long-term prospects for economic growth and the challenges of monetary policy, longevity, pension fund shortfalls, inflation, old-age dependency and related pressure on government resources.

 

“It may be obvious that a higher economic growth rate means higher earnings on assets deferred to the future,” according to Lafferty.

 

“What’s not so obvious is that when economic growth is higher, the incentive to save is better. Yet higher long-term real and nominal growth rates can’t be generated in a secular low-growth period. It’s very hard for people who are just getting by to even justify saving in the first place, never mind how much they’re going to save, or how fast it’s going to grow.”

 

Commenting on the growing ratio of retirees to employment-age adults, Waechter said, “In the past, life in retirement was 10 to 15 years; now it’s 25 to 35 years.

 

“It will be increasingly challenging for countries to balance retirement schemes where the young generations are paying for their elders, because there are too few workers contributing, current productivity growth is too low to generate sufficient income to pay pensions for the number of people living longer, and macroeconomic conditions have changed.

 

“Growth, wage inflation and interest rates could remain low for an extended period of time. To create the surplus needed for the transfer of wealth from the present to the future, productivity growth must come back, and we have to think differently about the arbitrage between pension levels, retirement age and worker contributions.”

 

 

Download a copy of the 2017 Global Retirement Index: An in-depth assessment of retirement secutity in the developed world, from https://ngam.natixis.com/us/research/global-retirement-index-2017.

 

21 July 2017.