December 21, 2011

Outlook 2012: Retirement — Boomer Surveys Tell Us They’re Happy (Even If Broke)

Peace, hope and Betty White–happy retirees are doing it their way

Most surveyed in The Hartford/MIT Age Lab study said they felt 'hopeful' and 'peaceful' about their retirement. Most surveyed in The Hartford/MIT Age Lab study said they felt 'hopeful' and 'peaceful' about their retirement.

The most beloved statistical study in the advisor world–namely, the retirement survey— was a veritable cottage industry in 2011, the year the first of the baby boomers began marking their milestone 65th birthday.

At year end, the results have all been tabulated, and the latest in retirement news is official: thanks to American-style optimism, U.S. boomers in 2012 will feel good about getting older, even if they can’t afford to retire.

“Americans’ trademark optimism is intact, at least in regard to retirement, despite the economic turbulence that is reportedly forcing many people to work longer and make do with less,” according to a survey from The Hartford and MIT AgeLab released Dec. 6. “In fact, many retirees found only one downside: They wish they could have done it sooner.”

A Third of Retirees Would Have Saved More

Significantly, for those who were less than positive about the next phase of their lives, dealing with medical or health issues was cited most often, at 21% for both pre-retirees and retirees. If they could change one aspect of retirement, 32% of retirees say they would have saved more money or been better prepared financially, but 13% also wish they’d paid more attention to the importance of health issues.

The Hartford/MIT AgeLab Age of Opportunity study, which measured the opinions of Americans both in and approaching retirement, found that “most retirees are pleased with their life,” and both pre-retirees and retirees have a positive attitude about retirement overall.

To wit, retirees are more likely to say “I am happier now that I am retired” (77%) than those who have yet to retire are to say “I will be happier after I retire” (64%), according to The Hartford/MIT Age Lab study. And 26% of those nearing retirement said they feel “hopeful” about retirement, while 27% of those who have recently retired say they feel “peaceful.”

Betty White Knows How to Laugh; Jack Welch Doesn’t

But perhaps just as important in the survey were the cultural signifiers: Retirees’ favorite personal theme song was “My Way,” and when asked which celebrity they’d most like to be like in retirement or are like in retirement, most said Betty White, “because she

knows how to laugh.” On the low end of the celebrity scale was former GE Chairman and CEO Jack Welch, because he “didn’t seem to know how to let go,” said Brian Murphy, executive vice president of individual life at The Hartford, at a New York media panel talk on the day of the survey’s release.

Don’t care for those results? The Hartford/MIT AgeLab study is just one of a handful to have been released in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Here’s what other experts are saying about the retirement outlook for 2012:

Financial Planning Association: The FPA’s annual retirement survey of planners reported that not much has happened this year. Specifically, the research showed an increase of clients, totaling 76%, who did not make significant changes to their retirement plans or lifestyles since the 2010 study. The FPA said this number reveals significant success in retirement strategies over the past year.

“Of the 595 planners surveyed, three-fourths frequently or always use systematic withdrawal, 38% frequently or always use time-based segmentation, a third frequently or always use essential-versus-discretionary income approach and 23% frequently or always use a less formal strategy where clients mainly live on their pension or Social Security, which may be  supplemented periodically. Of these processes, research results show systematic withdrawal is the most effective in helping clients maintain retirement plans and lifestyle,” the FPA reported.

Employee Benefit Research Institute: Nonpartisan EBRI’s data reports that not only are older American workers age 50 and over expecting to work longer, but many now say they expect to never retire.

“The general trend shows that older Americans are expecting to retire later,” said Sudipto Banerjee, EBRI research associate and author of the study, in a statement. “But the most striking finding is that nearly 20% of the sample expects never to stop working and more than 15% of the sample don’t know when they are going to retire.”

Before the recession in 2006, 11.2% of workers age 50 or over expected to retire at age 70, but by recession’s end in 2010, that number had increased to 14.8 %, EBRI found. Even at higher ages, the expected retirement age has jumped: Just 1.7% of workers age 50 or over planned to retire at age 80 in 2006, while that more than tripled to 5.2% in 2010.

Read AdvisorOne's complete lineup of Outlook 2012 stories.

Read about Fidelity’s generational retirement survey at AdvisorOne.com.

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