Retirement readiness worldwide edged up slightly this year compared to last year. Surprisingly, three BRIC countries are among the most prepared: the emerging nations of Brazil, India and China.

These are among the eye-catching findings from the Aegon Retirement Readiness Survey 2015. Published by the Aegon Center for Longevity and Retirement, the survey polled 14,400 employees worldwide to measure attitudes and behaviors regarding retirement planning.

The survey’s key benchmark for measuring respondents’ retirement preparedness, the Aegon Retirement Readiness Index (ARRI), pegs the U.S. at 6.5 on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being least ready and 10 most ready. The U.S. occupies fourth place on the scale, behind India (7.0) and Brazil (6.7), and tied with China (also 6.5).

The aggregate ARRI for all countries this year is 5.86, up from 5.76 in 2014.

“The sense of retirement readiness is greatest in emerging markets where real incomes have been growing fastest in recent decades,” the report states. “People in these countries also benefit from high interest rate environments, boosting the value of their savings and creating a sense of their readiness.

“This is common to all BRIC countries surveyed, including India, Brazil and China, which collectively topped the ARRI ranking, although Brazil has seen its ARRI score drop amid combined low economic growth and high inflation,” the report adds.

The survey notes that individuals who are saving on a “habitual basis” are better prepared for retirement. More than one-third (36 percent) of habitual savers achieve a high index score (ARRI between 8 and 10). This compares with just 10 percent, 9 percent and 3 percent among those who describe themselves as “occasional savers,” “past savers” and “aspiring savers.”

Women and young workers continue to lag behind men and older workers in funding retirement needs. More than one-fifth of men (21 percent) achieve a high index score as compared to 16 percent of women.

Among young people between the ages of 18 and 35, only 15 percent enjoy a high index score. By comparison, greater proportions of individuals aged 45-54 (19 percent), 55-64 (24 percent) and 65-plus (32 percent) are high index savers.

Among the survey’s additional findings:

  • 33 percent of people worldwide say that having more generous tax breaks on long-term savings and retirement products would encourage them to save more for retirement.

  • 13 percent globally have a written financial plan and 39 percent have no retirement strategy.

  • Of global survey respondents who have a written financial plan, 75 percent are habitual savers.

  • Habitual savers are the most likely to take personal responsibility for retirement, with four-fifths (79 percent) having a retirement planning strategy.

  • 45 percent of employees worldwide say that receiving a pay raise would prompt them to save more for their golden years.

See the charts beginning on page 2 for additional highlights from the survey. (Click on the charts to enlarge.)

As this chart notes, more than half (52 percent) of respondents to Aegon’s survey achieved a low ARRI score (0-5.9). This compares to 29 percent and 18 percent, respectively, who have a medium (6.-7.9) and high (8-10) retirement readiness index score. To boost the latter two figures, the survey’s authors call for “more rapid change in how people plan for their retirement,” in part through improved pension plans and greater adoption of auto enrollment and escalation options in defined contribution plans.

The high percentages of those ill-prepared for life after work is mirrored in the woeful state of retirement planning worldwide. As the chart below shows, less than one-quarter of respondents in any surveyed country have a written financial plan. More commonly, respondents have an unwritten plan (ranging from 25 percent in France to 62 percent in China) or have no plan at all (17 percent in India vs. 57 percent in France).

The Aegon report indicates that solid pluralities of people globally expect to derive retirement income from the state. The percentages are highest in Spain (63 percent), Hungary (55 percent) and Poland (53 percent).

In comparison, countries where the greatest proportion of individuals plan to turn to personal savings and investments (including IRAs) for retirement income include India (47 percent), Australia (36 percent) and Canada (34 percent).

The top three countries where income from employers or previous employers (through workplace retirement plans) is most frequently cited as a source of retirement income are The Netherlands (37 percent), the U.K. (34 percent) and again India (30 percent).

As this chart shows, most people with a “Plan B” or contingency plan for funding retirement needs expect to rely on personal savings (62 percent of respondents). Substantial percentages also expect to rely on their spouse/working partner (30 percent), critical illness insurance (22 percent) and downsizing their existing home or selling a second home (22 percent).

Habitual savers (those who ensure they’re always saving for retirement) constitute a sizeable (but minority) proportion of the global population of employees: 39 percent. Most are aspiring savers (22 percent), occasional savers (21 percent) or past savers (11 percent). 

As the boxed chart below shows, survey respondents who are habitual savers are largely in excellent or good heath (74 percent) and feel positively about retirement (80 percent). Most also have a non-written retirement plan (54 percent) and find auto-enrollment at 6 percent appealing (72 percent).

Nearly 6 in 10 (58 percent) of individuals want to stay active and “keep their brain alert” by working beyond the retirement age. This figure rises to 74 percent among survey respondents who are already semi-retired. For a significant percentage of post-retirement age workers, work is also personally rewarding (38 percent among those employed full or part time; 45 percent among semi-retirees).

See also: 4 new (and surprising) facts about retirement security