2018 Retirement Survey

On behalf of myself and my collaborator, Fritz Gilbert of The Retirement Manifesto, I am pleased to present the findings from our retirement survey. Here’s how our report is organized. The results of each question are presented in either table or graphical form. That’s followed our interpretation of the data.  I bring the perspective of someone who is retired and Fritz brings the perspective of someone who is approaching retirement. We each wrap up with our overall conclusions.
Please feel free to share this report and to contact either of us if you have any questions or perspectives that you want to share.

 

 

Context – Age of Respondents

 

 

Fritz: In early February 2018 a 10-question survey was sent to readers/listeners of the blogging/podcasting community.  We were pleased to have 195 folks respond to the survey.  The results shed some interesting light on what’s on the mind of retirees.  While the results may not be statistically representative of the retirement population as a whole, they provide insight, and give us some good areas to explore.

It’s interesting to note that we have some very early retirees in the survey.  Two are young (& retired) blogging friends of mine, and we joked on Twitter that they’d be identifiable by their early age.  However, a more typical 87% of the respondents were between the ages of 50-69, so the results below are likely indicative of most folks in retirement age.

Ted: The average age of survey respondents is 58. The median age is 60. Only 2% of respondents are between 30-39; 10% are between 40 – 49; 38% are between 50 – 59; 49% are between 60 – 69; and 2% are between 70 -79. (Note: numbers have been rounded up or down which may affect totals)

Q1:  How Many Years Have You Been Retired?

Ted: 75% of survey respondents have been retired less than 5 years which places them in the early stages of retirement. I have learned that retirement is not a uniform end state – it is a journey that requires constant adjustment. According to The 6 Stages of Retirement the goal is to achieve a comfortable retirement routine.  It took me several years to get there and hopefully by sharing my experience I can help others get there too.

Fritz:  Retirement’s not a uniform end state, Ted?  Man, I have a lot to learn from those who have walked ahead of me.  With <100 days to my retirement, I appreciate your experience with the transition into retirement, and am currently focusing on keeping myself flexible and open to “constant adjustment”.  I suspect retirement has a lot of unexpected surprises, and I’m preparing for that.  Thanks for sharing your experience, you’re helping me, and many others, on our journeys.


Q2:  Did You Retire On Your Own Terms?

  • Yes, I controlled when and under what terms      83%
  • No, I really didn’t have a choice                                 9%
  • It just happened by default over time                      7%

Fritz:  I was actually surprised by these results.  In my post titled “Will You Be Forced To Retire”, I cited a major study that 60% of Americans are forced to retire sooner than they’d hoped.  I’m pleased to see our participants had a better “success rate”, but I’d encourage pre-retirees to not get too comfortable.  I suspect the reality is worse than reflected in our “small sample size” poll.

Ted:  Fritz, I agree with you that many people are forced into retirement. One of the reasons that matters is because studies have shown that people who control the circumstances of their retirement are happier and less stressed than those forced to retire. Another control issue is the timing of when a working couple retires: do you retire together or at different times?  In my case, both my wife and I voluntarily retired at the same time in 2010. Whether this is desirable or not depends on circumstances and on the couple’s relationship. It turned out to be the right decision for us.

Fritz, sharing your run-up to retirement serves as a great example and inspiration to all who follow you. You are definitely on the right trajectory for a happy and successful retirement! References: 9 Secrets of Retirement by Emily Brandon of US News &World Report; notes from my interview with retired psychology professor Jill Steinberg of MyRetirementWorks; and from the WSJ Should Couples Retire at the Same Time?

Fritz Again: “You are definitely on the right trajectory”, coming from you, Ted, means a lot to me.  Thanks for your encouragement.  I really enjoy how folks in our online community are so supportive of each other.  You just saw an example of that in action, folks.  Thanks again, Ted.


Q3:  Please Rank Your Concerns

The results of the leading concerns, in descending order:

  1. Unexpected Health Crisis
  2. Outliving Savings / Inflation
  3. Costs of Long Term Care
  4. A Stock Market Crash
  5. Not Having Enough To Do
  6. Isolation / Loneliness
  7. Relationship Challenges / Marital

Ted: I have read articles and heard from my podcast guests that outliving your savings is the number one fear of retirees. But in our survey, it comes in second. I suspect that’s because most respondents have a financial plan that shows sufficient cash flow to last throughout their lives. So if you are in a good place financially what could jeopardize your retirement?

The obvious answer is an unexpected health crisis. We have friends who have had the misfortune of losing a spouse (one at age 53 hardly old). Not only did the surviving spouse have to adjust to the loss of their partner but also to the loss of their retirement dreams. References:  Older People Fear This More Than Death .

Fritz:  Ted, thanks for the link, I just read your link “Older People”.  Fascinating stuff. The quote from the article that supports your point about “outliving savings” is below:

“It’s not being bored, unable to travel or even death itself that scares older Americans most about retirement — it’s running out of money.”

I agree with your thought, Ted, that our survey population is not representative of the retirement population at large.  In our survey population, “Health Crisis” ranks #1 vs. “Money” for most retirees. Our result is likely, as you surmise,  due to the likelihood that our readers are in better shape with their money than the general population. In my personal case, I would certainly rank “Health Crisis” as my biggest concern at this point.

One of my greatest fears is losing my spouse at a young age (50’s is still young, right?), so I can empathize with our survey results.  A true crisis like your friends faced is a real earthquake in life, disrupting everything you’d been planning for your life.  As I said, my greatest fear.

I think about retirement as realizing there are many things outside my control, but I can focus my efforts on the things I can control.  I consider taking care of my body something I can control, so I’m focusing on getting in great shape as part of my retirement plan.  My wife and I share that goal, and it’s something we’re enjoying doing together.

While we can’t avoid a “Crisis”, we can certainly improve our odds for a healthy life.


Q4:  What Is Your Strategy When It Comes To Aging?

  • Downsize to a more manageable house/condo            31%
  • Age in place                                                                          28%
  • Let events play out and deal w things as they come     28%
  • Proactively move into assisted care or CCRC                   9%
  • Have not thought about it                                                     4%
  • Move in with children                                                             0%

Fritz:  My wife and I decided to make our downsize move prior to retirement and recently moved into our “Good To Great Retirement Cabin” in the mountains.  We’ve intentionally purchased a home that will allow “one-floor living” if we need to go that route in the future.  With my mother-in-law living in a nursing home, this topic has been top of mind for us as we approach retirement.  While many would prefer to “age in place”, I suspect some will have difficult choices to make as they “deal with things as they come”.

Ted: I am impressed that nearly 2/3 of survey respondents indicate that they have thought about the subject.  It comes as no surprise that most people want to continue to live in their own home whether it is their current house or a smaller one.  Up until recently my wife and I fell into “proactively move into a CCRC”. The number one reason is to avoid the potential isolation that a surviving spouse may experience while remaining in their own home. However, we’re in the process of reconsidering that strategy because more options (e.g. retirement communities) are becoming available along with the very high cost of buying into a CCRC. The good news is that (assuming good health); we have time to consider our options. So our new default strategy is “age in place” – for now. Reference: AARP research.

Fritz Again:  Wow, Ted.  Your point about avoid the potential isolation that a surviving spouse may experience hit me pretty hard.  I hadn’t thought about that potential aspect of retirement lifestyle decisions (I’m still young, remember!).  It certainly shows I have things to learn from “The Masters” who have gone before me, like you!  (BTW, I like this collaborative approach to writing).


Q5:  What Are Your Income Sources?

Ted:  Clearly investment income and Social Security lead the way. But what surprises me is how many are fortunate enough to have a pension. I interviewed Emily Brandon of US News & World Report about her book “Pensionless: the 10 Step Solution for a Stress-Free Retirement”. Emily points out that pension plans have been declining since the 1980s which places more responsibility on us. According to research conducted by Jill Steinberg (see my interview notes), people who have pensions feel more secure and optimistic about retirement. So good news for all of you who have pensions!

My wife and I have relatives and friends who receive pensions and none of them have ever expressed any anxiety over money. Plus, and this may be even more significant, they also get health insurance. After we retired we went from a world of having the best health insurance to a world of uncertainty and worse insurance. References: My interview notes with Emily Brandon.

Fritz:  Hearing what you say, Ted, I count my lucky stars that I’m one of the last of the dinosaurs who will get a solid pension, and it’s certainly played a major role in us being able to retire early (I’ll be 55 Yrs old).  We won’t have retiree medical coverage, but we’ve budgeted $24k/yr for private pay insurance in our retirement cash flow.

For those reading this who are years away from retirement, you’ve got a burden to develop a “self-funded” retirement.   Savings rates will have to be significantly higher for younger folks to make up for the loss of this valuable benefit.  I’m thankful for having a pension, but I do worry about younger generations.


Q6:  What Are Your Favorite Activities?

Fritz:  I’m a bit surprised by these results, with less than 30% of recent retirees involved in “Outdoors, sports & fitness, and less than 15% pursuing travel.  My stereotype of retirement was that more folks spend time traveling and enjoying the out of doors.  I also find it a bit depressing that less than 5% of folks volunteer.  It makes me wonder what retirees are doing with all of their time, and I hope they’re not wasting their most valuable years parked in a recliner in front of a T.V.  Maybe I’m naïve, but I envision a much more active retirement.  Time will tell.

Ted Fritz, I am fascinated by the results. They show just how many different ways there are to enjoy retirement.  I’m also a bit surprised by the low volunteer rate. Perhaps it can be explained by how many are relatively new to retirement and are busy following one of the three retirement paths (honeymoon, immediate retirement routine and rest/relaxation). Then there’s the difference between leading a happy life and a meaningful life. I think it takes time to reach the point where giving back is seen as a way to enhance retirement happiness. The case of my wife helps illustrate this point. Over the years I’ve suggested that she do some volunteer work but she’s never expressed interest – until now 8 years into retirement. As I mentioned at the beginning, retirement is not linear. We are constantly changing and growing. References: There’s More to Life Than Being Happy.

 


Q7:  What Has Surprised You Most About Retirement?

The good news is that nearly 2/3 (64%) were surprised in a good way while just 12% were surprised in a bad way. This suggests a couple of things to me: you all have done a great job in planning for both the financial and non-financial side of retirement; that you were ready to retire; and that you are enjoying retirement. In this post, I share What Surprised Me About Retirement.

Fritz:  Interesting way to aggregate the results, Ted, and I’m happy to see that our respondents were most often surprised in a good way.  I hope I can say the same after I retire in June!  I was also happy to see that 21% had an easy transition, and 19% said they were surprised by how busy they are.  Good signs!


Q8: What Gets You Out Of Bed In The Morning?

 

Fritz:  I’m pleased to see that only 12% of respondents are being driven out of bed by responsibilities.  After 33 years of an alarm clock, I want my retirement to be motivated by things that I choose to pursue.  With less than 100 days to retirement, I’m spending a lot of time thinking about what I want my motivations to be in retirement.  Finding a purpose is a key contributor to a great retirement, and I’m pleased to see that the majority of retirees seem to be finding things to motivate them after their “jobs” are behind them.

Ted: The intent of this question is to determine what motivates you in retirement (although some people interpreted this question more literally). I think that the first 5 categories are positive motivators. You are in control whereas with the last category, “Responsibilities; appointments; meetings” you are tied to things that you have to do and therefore have less control. It may also suggest that there’s simply not enough to do. I think these results correlate with the response to Question 10 How Do You Rate Your Overall Happiness?


Q9: How Do You Grade Yourself In The Following Areas?

Ted: The most frequent grade given across all categories is a B at 39% of all grades given. A’s were given 34% of the time, C’s 21%, D’s 5% and F’s only 1%. The highest category grade given is an A for Managing Personal Finances (61%). The lowest category grade given is an F for Family Interaction (0.5%). Overall I think that these grades indicate that you are doing a great job of “managing” retirement and that they correlate with the findings in Question 10. That all said, they also indicate that there is some room for improvement especially when it comes to Diet/Nutrition which is the category that has the greatest disparity between A’s and B’s (49% vs. 22%).

Fritz:  Ted, Interesting to see so many folks giving themselves an “A” for personal finances.  I suspect our sample has a bias towards those who care about personal finance, given that they’re reading and listening to our content!  It looks like we’re going to have to start adding some “healthy eating” content to our sites to help folks move their grade up to an A in that category.  What jumped out at me was the 33% of folks who rate themselves a “C” on Social Interaction.  Relationships are shown to be one of the highest factors in a great retirement, and it’s an area that retirees say they’re not doing too well in.  That’s concerning to me, and tells me I really need to focus on developing relationships post-work.


Q10: How Do You Rate Your Overall Happiness?

Fritz:  I’m pleasantly surprised by the 82% of folks who rate retirement happiness as “High” or “Very High”.  When I wrote “Will Retirement Be Depressing”, I was concerned by the fact that retirement increases the probability of depression by 40%.  Looks like we have an abnormally well-adjusted group of followers, Ted!

Ted:  I think this strong 82% “happy result” it is a credit to our survey respondents. You have taken responsibility for retirement planning, adjusting to retirement and starting a new chapter in your lives. And this result corroborates some interesting research on this topic. According to The U Curve of happiness, people get happier as they get older. That is great news, especially for those approaching retirement.

I can’t believe that it’s been 8 years since we retired. I went through a difficult and prolonged adjustment stage but have now settled into a comfortable retirement routine. In fact, I don’t think of myself as “retired” in the traditional sense. I’m just doing something different with my life now that I have financial freedom and time freedom. Labels and stereotypes don’t apply. I am responsible for my happiness. I am not dependent on others for validation.

Fritz Again:  I appreciate your transparency on the difficulties you had in the transition, Ted.  If I’m honest with myself, I have some trepidation, though the majority of my emotion is positive and excited about the next phase.  I’ve heard many stories from folks who had a tougher transition than they expected.  I’ve tried to do everything I can to prepare for this, and I take assurance in knowing that folks like you who had a tough transition have settled into an enjoyable “retirement”.  Financial Freedom does indeed bring freedom, but it also brings responsibilities for one’s happiness.  I hope to apply the lessons I’m learning from those who have gone before me on the journey, like you!

 


Conclusions

Ted:  Thank you, Fritz, for collaborating with me on the project! Your inputs, experience, perspectives, and audience have resulted in a much better result than I could do on my own. I also want to thank everyone who took the time to take our survey.

Here are my objectives for the survey and what I learned about each:

  1. Learn more about the audiences that Fritz and I interact with.
  • Many of you retired relatively young and are in the early stages of retirement. 83% controlled the circumstances of your retirement with bodes well for your happiness.

2. Understand how people are doing with both the financial and non-financial sides of retirement.

  • When it comes to managing the financial side of things you’re on top of it (61% give yourselves an A). The non-financial side is more mixed. There’s room for improvement when it comes to health (diet, nutrition, and exercise); and family and social interaction – two areas that are vital.

3.  Discover what people have learned about retirement from their experience.

  • It was great to learn that most of you are enjoying retirement, that you’re busy and not bored. You enjoy having control over your life. It was interesting to me that 11% of you said that nothing surprised you. You must have done an excellent job of preparing! Unfortunately, 12% of you do not appear to be enjoying retirement. I hope that you find some motivation and inspiration from this survey because as I said earlier retirement is not a uniform or permanent state. It will change and hopefully for the better.

4. Learn how people are spending their time.

  • I learned that there is no one way that people chose to spend their time, i.e. what motivates them. There is a multitude of things! As the co-host of my Retire Hoppy podcast (Roy) likes to say: you don’t need to find something to do in retirement. You have to find many things.

5.  See how people view the future.

  • I was impressed that so many people are looking ahead. We live in an ageist society where we learn from a young age to fear growing old. Many live in denial or avoidance of this topic. I believe that it is a sign of strength and confidence to accept ourselves at whatever age we are. So kudos to all who have thought about how you want to live as you age. I hope that you have taken it one step further and have created an estate plan (and/or will) and health care directives. Strength and peace come from acceptance.

6.  In general, are people happy in retirement?

  • It is clear that most of you are happy. I think the reasons for this are in your responses: you controlled the circumstances of your retirement; you are doing a good job of managing your finances (which can be a major stressor); you have a lot of interests; and I believe that you are open to continuously improving your life.

7. A means to share information.

  • One way that we learn is by sharing our stories. So by your gracious act of responding to our survey, you have enabled Fritz and me to engage, inform and inspire others. I’d like to take this thought one step further. I encourage you to continue to share your stories, your journeys.
  • Here are several ways to do so: listen to and share podcasts (such as my Retire Hoppy podcast – shameless self-promotion I know); volunteer to be a guest on my podcast; read and share blog posts; become a guest blogger; engage in social media (believe it or not there is a lot of great information about retirement on Twitter – you can follow me @retirehoppy); or mentor a younger person to help them achieve financial literacy.

While it appears that our survey size is small, it is still statistically significant to our survey population. Let me break that down as it’s actually two points. First, based on our sample size, the margin of error for our survey is 7% and the confidence level is 95%. The way I look at margin of error is as follows. In question 9, 61% give themselves an A in managing personal finances. This result could range between 54% and 68% (+ or – 7%). If this survey was repeated 100 times, results should fall within this range 95% of the time. Second, our survey does not apply to all retirees in the general population. It applies to people like you, i.e. who are constantly learning about retirement by engaging in activities such as reading my blog and Fritz’s blog. I believe there’s a correlation between the fact that you actively engage in learning about retirement and your success.

Note: The design of questions 6, 7 and 8 is open-ended meaning that you were able to enter whatever you wanted. I grouped your answers into categories that I created which introduces some subjectivity. If you’d like to see all the raw answers, I’ve created a pdf document that contains them. You can download it from RetiremenJourneys.com/resources/downloads.

As always, you can offer your ideas and comments by using the Contact Us form on Retirement Journeys. Thank you!


Fritz:  I’d like to thank Ted for reaching out to me as a partner in the 2018 Retirement Survey, and I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve had working through this with him.  Almost more than the conclusions, the takeaway for me was the process that Ted and I used to compile this post.  We’ve shared numerous emails and “draft versions” of this post together over the past 2 weeks, and It Was Fun.

The approach we used demonstrated a unique way that those of us in or near retirement can use new means and technology to build relationships in non-traditional ways.

Ted and I have had a meaningful exchange in the creation of this post.  You see it in our words above.  If more of us can find ways to create meaningful connections, especially connections which benefit others, we can all contribute to the objective of my blog…

…Helping People Achieve A Great Retirement

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