The United States is exceptional, and therefore an outlier in lots of international comparisons. Our incomes are high and our taxes are low, which is good. But our health care bills are astronomical and our infant mortality rate is awfully high, too (for a wealthy country), which is bad.
When it come to pensions and other retirement income, though, the U.S. is pretty average. That, at least, is my reading of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s biennial “Pensions at a Glance” report, which came out Tuesday. “Pensions at a Glance” is a terribly misleading name for a document that fills 167 densely packed pages, and you may interpret the scads of data in it differently. But I at least have backup from the 2017 Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index, which was released in October and has a couple of handy rankings graphics that can in fact be perused at a glance and put the U.S. right around the middle of the 30 countries rated: just behind the U.K. and France, just ahead of Malaysia and Poland.
(Related: 9 Factors That Affect Longevity)
What’s curious about the U.S. retirement system, though, is that on average it’s actually well above the average for members of the OECD, the organization of the world’s affluent democracies.
For example, when you throw together payments from Social Security, defined-benefit pensions, defined-contribution 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts, retirement income in the U.S. looks generous.
When you look at the amount of money set aside to fund these retirement commitments, the U.S. system also looks quite solid by international comparison.
Where the U.S. system doesn’t look so good is in its inconsistency. Americans’ retirement situations vary dramatically depending on where they work, which generation they belong to, how good they’ve been about contributing to their 401(k)s, what they’ve chosen to invest that money in, and how they’ve chosen to withdraw it.