Large Gap between Retirement Expectations, Reality

June 24, 2014
Laura Joszt

The attitudes and expectations of Americans who are currently working differ significantly from those who are already retired, according to a recent survey.

The attitudes and expectations of Americans who are currently working differ significantly from those who are already retired, according to a recent survey.

Northwestern Mutual’s 2014 Planning and Progress Study found that based on attitudes and expectations of working and retired Americans, there are expected to be substantial changes in retirement age and lifestyle.

While non-retired adults expect to continue working longer, nearly half (45%) say they will continue working in retirement out of necessity. Workers expect to work until age 68 on average, which is nearly a decade longer than already retired respondents who stopped working, on average, at age 59. Furthermore, among retirees, 72% are complete retired from working.

"Retirement is being redefined from one generation to the next," Greg Oberland, president of Northwestern Mutual, said in a statement. "For those who have the flexibility and security to choose, many are deciding to continue working, possibly in second careers that are personally meaningful to them."

There is also a lot of uncertainty regarding retirement plans for currently working Americans. A fifth of respondents were unsure how many years they would spend in retirement and 13% think they will never be able to retire. Of those respondents who are age 60 and older, 38% estimate they will have to work until at least age 75 before they can retire.

The good news for workers who are pessimistic about retirement is that retired Americans say life after working is good. While only 37% of workers expect they will be happier in retirement, 84% of retirees say they are happy now and 60% say they are happier than when they were working.

"The message retirees seem to be sending is to fixate less on numbers and more on quality of life," Oberland said. "Retirement has less to do with account balances and more to do with who you are and what you want. Visualize that period of your life and develop a plan to get there. It's always possible that it may not be exactly what you imagined, but if you have a plan, there's a good chance it will be one of the happiest and most fulfilling periods of your life."