On retirement security, US ranks far behind others

If you are feeling secure about your retirement, congratulations. You're a relative novelty—at least in the U.S.

A new report by Natixis Global Asset Management finds that America barely ranks in the top 20 countries in terms of overall retirement security, coming in just above Slovenia at No. 19. The winner was Switzerland, and northern European countries were heavily represented in the top 20, but the U.S. also lagged behind South Korea and Japan. Even Iceland managed to leapfrog past the U.S., moving from 23 to 4 between 2013 and 2015.

The U.S. ranks 14 in terms of public finances, thanks to low interest rates and inflation. It also rose slightly to 19 on health care, up from 21 in 2014, as the number of uninsured people declined. But on quality of life, largely measuring environmental quality and regulation, the U.S. ranked 25, and in terms of material well-being for individuals, it doesn't even make the top 30.

Income inequality is a big factor in the Natixis measure of material well-being, and John Hailer, president and CEO of Natixis Global Asset Management, said that is what sank the U.S.

"Part of the U.S. is doing great, and others aren't. This index really takes into account how the overall population is doing," he said. "We need to look at programs in place to deal with the well-being of everybody."

2015 Global Retirement Index

Retirement Index Score
1 Switzerland 82%
2 Norway 81%
3 Australia 77%
4 Iceland 77%
5 Netherlands 77%
6 Sweden 77%
7 Denmark 77%
8 Austria 76%
9 Germany 76%
10 New Zealand 75%
11 Luxembourg 75%
12 Canada 74%
13 Finland 74%
14 Korea, Rep. 73%
15 Czech Republic 73%
16 Belgium 72%
17 Japan 71%
18 France 71%
19 United States 71%
20 Slovenia 71%
21 Qatar 71%
22 United Kingdom 70%
23 Israel 70%
24 Malta 69%
25 United Arab Emirates 69%
26 Kuwait 69%
27 Estonia 68%
28 Slovak Republic 68%
29 Italy 67%
30 Singapore 67%
Natixis Global Asset Management

The new report adds weight to previous studies showing that many Americans are less than financially secure heading into retirement. For example, a Bankrate survey published in 2014 found that 36 percent of Americans were not saving for retirement, and 26 percent of the respondents aged 50 to 64 had not even begun putting money away for after they stop working.

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"People that are undersaved for retirement just use the excuse that they'll work forever. That's not always realistic and not always up to you." said Greg McBride, senior vice president and chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com. If that plan doesn't pan out, he added, "that's the point where it can reach a crisis at the household level."

Another 2014 study, by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, found that 64 percent of Americans say that they have saved for retirement, but only 57 percent were currently doing so. Worse, 6 in 10 workers said they and their spouse have saved less than $25,000.

Read MoreDon't let your 401(k) retire before you do

Hailer believes the U.S. could move up in the rankings in the coming years, particularly if some of the European countries currently higher on the list start to have difficulty funding some of their safety net programs providing health care and retirement support.

In Europe, people are "now beginning to get nervous that their governments may not be able to continue to fund" those support programs, he said. "In America, individuals are saying, 'I've got to worry about this now while I am still working, and put money toward health care and retirement.'"

Even so, he said, the report shows the U.S. has work to do.

"We need to be able to expand access to 401(k)s and other workplace plans," he said, and make it easier for small businesses to grow and offer retirement saving opportunities. "We have to find a way for part-time workers to participate" in retirement plans. "Everything's tied together."