Survey finds Chinese optimistic about their retirement years, while French, Germans and Spanish are pessimistic

A "squeezed generation" of middle-aged Europeans are convinced they are going to be poorer in retirement than their parents, according to a global survey that found the Chinese the most confident about their future and the French, Germans and Spanish the most pessimistic.

Americans are the most sure they will enjoy their retirement, the British are among the most likely to worry about being lonely, while individuals in Eastern European countries are uniformly morose about their future.

In the first major survey of its kind to include China, pension provider Aegon interviewed 12,000 employees in 12 countries on a wide range of financial planning issues. It found increasing levels of gloom among workers in the developed world, who have lost secure pensions and feel ill-prepared for retirement. Most expect to be worse off in retirement than the current generation of pensioners, while having to support adult children who have not been able to find jobs in the globally-depressed employment market.

In China, Aegon found a very different picture. A total of 66% of Chinese are optimistic about their retirement, compared with just 18% of Japanese and 38% of British people. The Chinese are also the most confident that they will be able to retire early, at age 55, compared to the people of other nations. They were also the most likely to believe they will maintain good health in retirement.

But confidence evaporates as you cross the Sea of Japan. Although the Japanese are renowned across the world as diligent savers, the country scored lowest overall in Aegon's "Retirement Readiness Index". "Japan seemingly provides us with is something of an oddity. This is a country whichIt is famed for its high household savings ratio, having amassed over $1tn trillion in private pension assets. But its household savings ratio has actually collapsed since the late 1990s, as real household incomes have been squeezed by two lost decades. Savings have fallen from a peak of 23% of income in the 1970s to around 3%. Employees are not building retirement assets at a rate similar to past generations," said Aegon.

In the survey, 43% of Japanese said they associate retirement with "insecurity" compared to just 13% in China and the US, and 15% in the UK.

Spain, suffering from 27% unemploymentand deeply scarred by the financial crisis, saw the biggest fall in "retirement readiness" since the last survey, while Germany scored highest. China (42%) and Germany (41%) have the greatest percentage who fall into the "medium readiness" category, with Spain (19%) and Japan (17%) having the least.

Employees in the United States and Canada were generally more confident than Europeans, but less than the Chinese. Both countries scored highly for having a "written plan" for their retirement. A total of 43% of Americans and 42% of Canadians said they associated retirement with enjoyment compared with just 6% of Hungarians. Large percentages of British and Chinese also expect their retirement to be enjoyable, yet both countries also worried about loneliness. In Britain, 11% expect loneliness to be an issue, compared to just 3% in the Netherlands.

Although Britain regards itself as a nation of hobbyists, the survey found it was only average. A total of 73% of British people expected to follow a hobby in retirement, compared to 86% of Chinese and 90% of the Dutch.

© Guardian News and Media 2013