Pre-retirees may underestimate health, financial challenges of retirement
—One in four retirees think life in retirement is worse than it was before they retired, according to a poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health. The poll shows stark differences between what pre-retirees think retirement will be like, and what retirees say is actually the case.
“Those of us over 50 and working are optimistic about our future health and health care, but that optimism is not necessarily shared by those who have already retired,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Many people who have already retired say their health is worse, and they worry about costs of medical treatment and long-term care. Insights from the poll can help policy-makers and others think about how to meet the needs of aging Americans. There are changes we can make to our health care system, finances, and communities that might help ensure that our retirement years will be as fulfilling as we hope.”
The poll focuses on views and experiences related to retirement among people over age 50, including not only people who have retired, but also people who plan to retire (“pre-retirees”) and those who do not plan to do so. It was conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health. Read a summary of the findings and view the complete poll findings. View the charts.
Findings show that a large majority of retirees say life in retirement is the same (44%) or better (29%) than it was during the five years before they retired. Many retirees say their stress is less, their relationships with loved ones are better, their diet is improved, and the amount of time they spend doing favorite activities is increased — yet 25 percent of retirees say life is worse.
"The poll shows that a significant number of people who are near retirement may be underestimating the challenges of retirement,” said Robert Blendon, professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health. “When you compare what people think retirement will be like with what retirees say it actually is like, there are big differences. Pre-retirees may underestimate the degree to which their health and finances may be worse in retirement.”
Listen to Blendon discuss the poll on NPR.
The poll shows only 14 percent of pre-retirees predict that life overall will be worse when they retire, compared to the 25 percent of retirees who say it actually is worse. Only 13 percent of pre-retirees thought their health would be worse, while 39 percent of retirees say it actually is. Less than a quarter of pre-retirees (22%) predict their financial situation will be worse, while a third of retirees (35%) said it actually is.
Findings also show that pre-retirees expect to retire later than those who are already retired and some expect never to fully retire. A sizeable majority of pre-retirees (60%) expect to retire at age 65 or older, while only 26 percent of current retirees polled said they waited to retire at age 65 or older. More than one in 10 pre-retirees (15%) say they never expect to fully retire.
Other key findings from the poll include:
Views on Health in Retirement
- Long, healthy life is expected by both retirees and pre-retirees.
- About three in 10 pre-retirees and retirees expect to live into their 90s or beyond (29% for pre-retirees; 32% for current retirees).
- A majority of both groups say their overall health in retirement is or will be better than that of people in their parents’ generation (58% pre-retirees; 53% retirees).
- Both retirees and pre-retirees think they have taken steps to stay healthy.
Most commonly, they have:
- Maintained good relationships with friends and family (95% pre-retirees; 94% retirees)
- Watched their weight (83% pre-retirees; 76% retirees)
- Seen a doctor regularly (80% pre-retirees; 88% retirees)
Pre-retirees are more likely than retirees to say they have changed their diet (68% of pre-retirees; 58% of retirees) and much more likely to say they have increased the amount of physical activity they get (72% of pre-retirees; 44% of retirees).
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