The world's richest aging populations

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With the size of the world's elderly population increasing rapidly, the growing demographic of wealthy "baby boomers" has become a significant driver for several major economies.

While most countries have benefits, welfare programs, work incentives and social programs that cater to the elderly, the playing field is not leveled. The World Health Organization forecasts that the number people aged 60 years and older will reach 2 billion by 2050 – nearly one in every five people. When it comes to taking care of this increasingly important consumer class, some countries are a step above the rest.

Here, we look at the 10 countries that had the highest average gross income for the 65-and-over population in 2012. With an average gross income of $55,693 for seniors – nearly four times the global average of $14,541 based on data from market research firm Euromonitor –you'll find some familiar names on our list along with some surprises.

Where are the world's elderly thriving financially? Click ahead to find out.

By Rajeshni Naidu-Ghelani
Posted September 2013

10. Finland
Photo: Sari Gustafsson | AFP | Getty Images

Average gross income for those 65 and over: $44,132

Average gross income for the 65-and-over population in Finland was $44,132 in 2012, over three times the global average.

Finland is home to one of the world's most comprehensive welfare systems that ensures its residents a high quality of living. Its elderly population – 18 percent of the country's 5.4 million residents according to government data – depends on that system, which includes a pension, care allowance, a housing allowance and a dependent child supplement.

With the government projecting seniors to account for 26 percent of the population by 2030 and nearly one third of the population by 2060, economic trouble may lie ahead.

In September 2012, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that Finland's economy would likely suffer as its aging population begins to challenge its long-term growth potential. The IMF suggested that the government raise the minimum retirement age of 63 and tighten early-retirement plans to help offset rising health care costs.

Pictured: Helsinki, Finland.

9. Netherlands
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Average gross income for those 65 and over: $44,345

Average gross income for the 65-and-over population declined in 2012 after rising by over $3,600 on year to $46,878 in 2011. However, average income is still up from 2010, when the Dutch government raised the pension retirement age by two years to 67.

While seniors in the Netherlands have one of the highest average gross incomes in the world, they aren't necessarily complacent. A study released by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies in May showed that, among 12 European, North American and Asian countries, Dutch workers had the highest expectations that government cutbacks would make their retirement benefits less valuable.

Dutch employees also had the highest expectations that their employers or pension funds would reduce workplace retirement benefits, the study showed.

Yet, despite these worries, the Netherland's pension system is ranked as the second-best in the world by the annual Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index, which surveyed 18 countries that account for more than half of the global population.

8. United States
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Average gross income for those 65 and over: $46,361

The average income of seniors in the U.S. has increased nearly 12 percent since 2009 to $46,361 in 2012 despite the global financial crisis.

Wealthy "baby boomers" in the U.S. tend to have a higher disposable income, partly due to their stock market investments during the 1980s and 1990s, when equities were doing really well, Johan Utterman, portfolio manager at Lombard Odier Golden Age Fund told Reuters in July.

Among the best states for retirement, Tennessee and Louisiana ranked first and second based on factors including low tax rates and the cost of living for seniors, according to a ranking by consumer financial services firm Bankrate in May.

Despite the U.S. ranking among the top ten in terms of average income for seniors, a study by the National Council on Aging last February showed that millions of elderly residents are missing out on more than $20 billion in aid, because they don't know it's there. For instance, the study showed that people failing to file for Medicare benefits miss out on a whopping $6.8 billion in funding.

7. Austria
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Average gross income for those 65 and over: $49,611

Often ranked among the world's best places to live, it's no surprise that Austria's seniors have one of the highest average gross incomes in the world.

While Austria ranks among the top ten, the average gross income of people aged 65 and over – nearly 18 percent of the country's 8.4 million people according to government data – has actually decreased over the past few years. Seniors had average income of $49,611 in 2012, down nearly 5 percent from 2011 and down 6.6 percent from a recent peak of $53,117 in 2008.

The country ranked fifth in the world for the best place to retire, according to the Natixis Global Retirement Index, which lauded Austria for its "robust" health care and retiree social programs.  

6. Belgium
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Average gross income for those 65 and over: $50,721

At $50,721, the average gross income for Belgium's seniors was nearly three and half times the global average in 2012. While the average gross income for those aged 65 and over has remained above the$50,000 mark since 2008, it dropped nearly $3,600 on year in 2012.

Belgians are eligible to start receiving their pensions as early as age 60 if they have worked for at least 38 years. Pensions normally account for about 60 percent of a worker's average wage, however residents can receive up to 75 percent of their average wage if they a have partner that does not have any income.

Additional perks in the Belgian pension system include a holiday allowance that kicks in from the second year. The maximum holiday allowance for pensioners with a family is $980, while singles receive up to $785.

5. France
Photo: Jean-Pierre Clatot | AFP | Getty Images

Average gross income for those 65 and over: $51,207

France finds itself at the halfway mark on the top ten list; the 65-and-over population had an average gross income of $51,207 in 2012, up a modest 4 percent since 2007.

With an official retirement age of 62 – below the average of 65 in most developed nations – France maintains one of the best retirement systems in the world. Despite the $18.4 billion deficit faced by the country's pay-as-you-go state pension system, as well as the series of austerity measures that France faces as a result of the euro zone debt crisis, the country ranked 10th on this year's Natixis Global Retirement Index, a measure of how well retired citizens live.

Additional benefits that French pensioners receive include a 10 percent pension increase if the resident has raised three children for at least nine years before those children turned 16.

Pictured: Elderly people in a garden of a nursing home in Albertville, eastern France.

4. Sweden
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Average gross income for those 65 and over: $55,348

Sweden is the second Nordic country to make the list of the world's richest aging populations. Sweden's seniors had an average gross income of $55,348 in 2012, up over 9 percent from 2007 and nearly three times the global average.

A country that prides itself on its "cradle to grave" welfare system, Sweden offers a state-funded pension at 65 for those who have little or no income, while other pensions can be taken from 61, Reuters reported.

Despite ranking as the fourth best pension system in the world on the Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index, the government continues to make improvements. Last September, it announced that it would reduce taxes for pensioners by $76 to $107 a year.

It also said that it would raise the living allowance for single pensioners, and promised to revisit pensioners' tax situation in the 2014 budget.

3. Australia
Photo: David Woolley | Lifesize | Getty Images

Average gross income for those 65 and over: $67,829

With its seniors earning an average gross income of $67,829, Australia is the only Asia-Pacific country and one of only two countries outside of Europe to make the top ten list. Japan and Singapore were the only other Asia-Pacific countries to make the top 20 list.

It's no surprise that Australia ranked as having the third best pension system in the world on the Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index. Australia's seniors saw a whopping 60 percent increase in average growth income for seniors between 2007 and 2012, significantly larger than the global average increase of 20 percent for the same period.

Australia's pension system looks set to remain one of the world's best. In an attempt to help seniors achieve an affordable living, the government introduced a trial measure in the May 2013-14 budget that allows seniors to downsize their home without reducing their pension income. From July 2014, at least 80 percent of the proceeds from a senior's home sale will be exempt from a pension payment test.

Pictured: Senior couple on yacht in Sydney Harbour, Sydney, Australia.

2. Switzerland
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Average gross income for those 65 and over: $68,736

With net financial assets of nearly $148,000 per capita according to Reuters, the Swiss are considered the richest people in the world. Seniors are no exception; with an average gross income of $68,736, up 35 percent from 2007, Switzerland's seniors earn nearly five times the global average.

Once known for its tax haven status, wealthy seniors from around the world have chosen to retire in Switzerland to protect their wealth. Foreigners make up more than one fifth of Switzerland's 7.7 million people. Some of its richest seniors include the likes of American pop star Tina Turner and the country's richest man, Ikea-founder Ingvar Kamprad.

Ranked as the fifth best pension system in the world according to the Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index, Switzerland has been listed among the top ten for the past three years.

Pictured: Lake Geneva and the fountain Jet d'Eau in Geneva, Switzerland. 

1. Norway
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Average gross income for those 65 and over: $78,637

Norway tops the list with an average gross income of $78,637 for its 65-and-over population, up 26 percent since 2007. The third Nordic and eighth European country on the list, Norway underscores the region's dominance when it comes to ensuring that its elderly population has a high quality of life.

With an average gross income for seniors of over five times the national average and almost $35,000 higher than that of Finland – ranked tenth on this list – Norway is in a league of its own. Norway's residents benefit from the country's oil-related wealth as well as its generous welfare system, as evidenced by its gross domestic product per capita of over $100,000.

Norway also tops the Natixis Global Retirement Index, which measures how well retired citizens in 150 countries live,receiving top marks for the care its gives to seniors' health and well-being as well as the social programs it has installed to further engage the group in society.