U.S. vs. International Retirement Report

Study finds retirees in America are less prepared for retirement than seniors in other countries.

Published May 3, 2021

Key Findings

  • Nearly one third of U.S. retirees had explored the possibility of moving to another country for better retirement options. This was three times higher than the portion of retirees in other countries who had considered the same type of move.

  • U.S. retirees were 20 times more likely than international retirees to return to work for financial reasons.

  • Two out of five U.S. seniors said they retired too soon and with less money than expected.

  • Roughly half of U.S. retirees said they only expect to live comfortably for another 10 years or less based on their current financial situation.

  • Retirees in the U.S. were more than twice as likely to report feeling trapped by their government health benefits and wishing they had other health insurance options in retirement.

  • Fewer than 43% of U.S. retirees said they feel younger than their age, compared to nearly 70% of retirees in other countries.

Study Overview

We work for decades preparing to live comfortably in our golden years. Our survey exploring retirement in the United States compared to other countries found that just as the grass is often greener on the other side of the fence, the golden years may be a little shinier on the other side of the pond. 

We surveyed 1,049 retirees in 20 countries including the U.S. and found that the financial outlook and self-reported quality of life of U.S. retirees is far less rosy than for retirees in other countries.

U.S. Retirees Less Financially Prepared for Retirement Than Those in Other Countries

Much of the data collected in the survey supports the notion that international retirees were better prepared for life after work and were better off financially in retirement as a result. 

The grass is greener in the minds of many Americans, who were three times more likely than international retirees to explore the idea of moving to another country for better retirement options.

Graphic highlight stating 3 in 10 retirees in America have explored moving to another country for better retirement

The 42% of U.S. seniors who felt they retired too soon based on their current quality of life was more than twice the rate of international retirees who said the same. 

Graphic highlight stating twice as many U.S. retirees felt they retired too soon

In a closely related question, respondents were asked if they retired with more or less money than expected. The same percentage of U.S. retirees who said they retired too soon — 42% — said they retired with less money than expected. 

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Graphic showing percentage of retirees in U.S. and other countries who retired with more or less money than they expected

Retiring too soon and with less money than expected is a recipe for a diminishing quality of life, and this was reflected in the fact that half of U.S. retirees don’t expect to live comfortably for more than another 10 years, given their financial situation. 

Among international seniors, 67% expected to live comfortably for 11 years or more in retirement based on their current finances.  

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Graphic showing percentage of retirees who expect to live comfortably for more or less than 10 years

Given that retirees in the U.S. are more likely to report retiring too soon, with less money than expected and a shorter time frame for living comfortably off their savings, it’s no surprise that U.S. retirees are far more likely to re-enter the workforce for financial reasons. 

In fact, 21% of U.S. retirees plan to re-enter the workforce full time for financial reasons, with another 12% planning to do so on a part-time basis. 

Less than 1% of international seniors plan to go back to full-time work, and only 6% plan to do so part-time. 

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Graphic showing percentage of retirees who plan to return to the workforce

Nearly one in five Americans age 65 and over is still employed, and employment of this demographic has grown by 117% over the last 20 years.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the labor force to experience a 4.5% increase in workers age 65 to 74 by 2024, and a 6.4% increase among workers 75 and older.

Retirees in the U.S. Have Much Higher Levels of Fear for Negative Outcomes

Retirees in the U.S. also expressed greater fears concerning other aspects of retirement than their international counterparts. 

U.S. retirees were much more likely than international seniors to report being "somewhat" or "very" fearful of:

  • Having to return to work in retirement
  • Having high debt in retirement
  • Higher taxes
  • Dwindling or disappearing government benefits
  • High health care costs
  • Running out of money

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Graphic showing percentage of retirees who fear negative retirement outcomes

While financial savings can shape the bulk of one’s quality of life in retirement, government health benefits also play a role. And U.S. retirees' outlooks didn’t fare much better here, with 41% either somewhat (28%) or strongly (13%) agreeing that they “felt trapped by their government health benefits and wish they had other options.” 

Just 16% of international seniors said the same. 

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Graphic showing percentage of retirees who feel trapped by their government provided health benefits

Despite the above-mentioned desire on the part of American seniors for more non-governmental health insurance options, U.S. and international retirees expressed fairly similar levels of trust in their respective health care systems and retirement benefits.

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Graphic showing percentage of retirees who trust their nation's health care and retirement systems

Finances and health care tell only one side of the retirement story. General lifestyle and happiness are also important to consider. When it came to these facets of retirement, the discrepancy between U.S. and international retirees told a familiar story. 

Fewer than 43% of retirees in the U.S. reported feeling younger than their age, compared to nearly 70% of retirees in other countries.

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Graphic showing percentage of retirees who say they feel younger or older than their age

62% of international retirees report being “very satisfied” with their family relationships compared to just 49% of U.S. retirees. And 50% of international retirees report being “very satisfied” with their romantic relationship compared to only 42% of U.S. retirees.

However, the percentage of retirees who report being somewhat or very satisfied with their overall quality of life was exactly the same between U.S. and international retirees at 93%. 

Conclusion

More retirees in the U.S. report experiencing financial difficulties than those in other countries. Seniors in the U.S. are more likely than international seniors to feel they retired too soon and with less money than expected. U.S. retirees are more likely to return to work, more likely to explore the possibility of moving to another country in retirement and less likely to believe they can live comfortably for more than 10 years in retirement. 

Despite these differences, U.S. and international retirees share the same level of happiness with their overall quality of life in retirement. 

The United Nations projects that by 2030, roughly one in eight people in the world will be 65 or older.1 By 2050, that number will skyrocket to almost one in five people. In Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan and South Korea in particular, a third or more of their respective populations will be age 65 or older by 2050.

This ballooning population of older adults means that there is a steadily decreasing ratio of working-age people to older people while at the same time the retirement and health care funds for retirees in some countries – especially in the U.S. – are facing looming insolvency.

Considering this “aging epidemic,” it will be increasingly vital to monitor the quality of life for retirees in the U.S and around the world as government funding for retiree support looks to become less certain.

Methodology

This study was conducted via survey which was conducted April 13 – April 22, 2021.

The total survey included 1,049 retirees, 508 of whom lived in America and 541 who were international. International respondents included residents of the following countries: Australia, Austria, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Scotland, Spain and the United Kingdom. 

To qualify for this survey, respondents needed to be aged 65 and older and currently retired. Participants were filtered based on completion time and failure to follow written instructions within the survey.

Margin of error: +/- 4% (95% confidence interval). This survey relies on self-reported data.

Fair Use Statement

Of course we would love for you to share our work with others. We just ask that if you do, please grant us the proper citation with a link to this study so that we may be given credit for our efforts.

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