Looking Ahead (Realistically Or Not) To Alternating Work And Leisure

Attitudes about retirement have had their ups and downs amid the economic gyrations of recent years. Now that the nation’s economy has settled into what passes for normality these days, it’s worth seeing how public opinion has shaken out. Commissioned by AARP, a survey of people age 30-65 sheds some light on it.

Expected retirement age has been one locus of fluctuation. During the boom of the late ’90s, there was much talk of people kicking back in their 50s. Then, as nest eggs shrank during the recession, people envisioned themselves flipping burgers until age 90. Expectations now mainly fall between those extremes. Twenty-six percent of respondents expect to retire (or have already done so) by age 59. Half expect to hang it up at 60-64 (26 percent) or 65-69 (24 percent). Few expect to keep working until 70-74 (13 percent) or 75-plus (6 percent); 3 percent think they’ll “never retire.” In short, Americans seem to have adopted a non-delusional view of how long they’ll need to (or want to) keep working.

The delusions kick in when people are asked about funding retirement. While other studies have shown majorities of Americans doing a slapdash job of saving for their old age, 24 percent of AARP’s respondents are “very confident” about having enough money to live comfortably for 25 years or more of retirement; 44 percent are “somewhat confident.” About one-third were either “not too confident” (20 percent) or “not at all confident” (12 percent). Elsewhere in the survey, though, 35 percent conceded they’re “a little behind” in planning and saving for retirement, and 20 percent confessed to being “very much behind.” Few were “very much ahead” (4 percent) or “a little ahead” (8 percent), with the rest simply “on track.” Ten percent have made a premature withdrawal from their retirement fund, and 5 percent have taken a loan against it. In one respect, many people overestimate the expenses they’ll face in retirement: Despite the existence of Medicare and Medicaid, 31 percent think the feds will pay none of their health-care costs.

Adults continue to shift away from a definition of retirement that excludes work altogether. In fact, just 14 percent of respondents said they expect to stop working entirely. Thirty-four percent believe they’ll work part-time. Most intriguingly, 25 percent expect to “alternate between periods of work and leisure.” While money is a significant inducement for those who plan to keep working (cited by 88 percent of this cohort), nearly as many said it’s because they “enjoy working” or because they want “to stay involved/be connected with others” (87 percent apiece). More power to them!