9 Reasons Retirement May Go Extinct

Millennials in particular represent a shift in attitude that includes very unretirement-like plans

Retirement as we know it may be set to disappear, as younger people look for ways to finance surviving into old age.

But extinction? Surely not.

However, according to the Merrill Edge Report 2016, that might just be in the offing, as workers change how they plan and save for retirement and how they intend to pay for it.

Millennials in particular represent a shift in attitude that includes very unretirement-like plans, although GenXers too are struggling with ways to pay their way through their golden years.

That’s tough, considering that most Americans neither know nor correctly estimate how much money they might need to keep the wolf from the door during retirement—or even to retire at all.

(Related: 6 Tax-Law Time Bombs Affecting IRAs)

Here’s a look at 9 reasons why retirement as we know it today might be a terminal case—unless things change drastically, and soon.

Most Americans have no idea how much to save for retirement. (Photo: iStock)

9. Ignorance.

Most Americans have no idea how much they might need to retire, which leaves them behind the eight ball when trying to figure out when or whether they can afford to do so.

Of course, it’s hardly surprising, considering how many are members of the “sandwich generation,” who find themselves caring for elderly parents while at the same time raising kids, or even trying to put those kids through college.

With soaring medical costs on one end and soaring student debt on the other, not to mention parents supporting adult children who have come home to roost, it’s hard to figure out how much they’ll need to meet all their obligations, much less try to save some of an already-stretched income to cover retirement savings as well.

Many people don't know how to calculate retirement savings needs. (Photo: Getty)

8. Poor calculations.

We already know most workers don’t know how much they’ll need in retirement—but it’s not just a matter of ignorance. They don’t know how to figure it out, either.

More than half—56 percent—figure they’ll be able to get by during retirement on a million dollars or less, while 9 percent overall think up to $100,000 will see them through.

And 19 percent just flat-out say they don’t know how much they’ll need.

Considering that health care costs alone can cost them a quarter of a mil during retirement, the optimists who think they can get by on $100,000 or less and even those who figure $100,000–$500,000 will do the job are way too optimistic—particularly since saving for medical costs isn’t one of their top priorities.

40 percent of nonretired workers say that reaching their magic number by retirement will either be “difficult” or “virtually unattainable.Photo: iStock

7. Despair.

It’s pretty hard to get motivated about something if you think it’s not achievable—and that discourages a lot of people from saving for retirement.

Those who have a “magic number” that they think will see them through retirement aren’t all that optimistic about being able to achieve that level of savings, with 40 percent of nonretired workers saying that reaching their magic number by retirement will either be “difficult” or “virtually unattainable.”

People say they need to win the lottery to have a retirement. (Photo: AP)

6. Luck.

When you don’t believe you can do it on your own, what else is left? Sheer dumb luck, to quote Professor Minerva McGonagall at Hogwarts after Harry and Ron defeated the troll.

Only instead of magic wands, 17 percent of would-be retirees are sadly (and amazingly) counting on winning the lottery to get them to their goal.

Some millennials expect they'll have to freelance in retirement. (Photo: iStock)

5. The gig economy.

Retirement? What retirement? Millennials in particular think they’ll need side jobs in the gig economy to keep them from the cat food brigade.

In addition, exactly half of younger millennials aged 18–24 believe they need to take on a side job to reach their retirement goals, compared with only 25 percent of all respondents. They don’t believe that just one job will cut it any more.

Millennials might realize they have to do it all themselves, but they aren’t negotiating for salaries high enough to allow them to save. (Photo: Getty)

4. Attitude adjustment.

While 83 percent of current retirees are not currently working or never have during their golden years, the majority (83 percent) of millennials plan to work in retirement—whether for income, to keep busy or to pursue a passion.

The rise of the “gig economy" has created an environment where temporary positions and short-term projects are more prevalent and employee benefits such as retirement plans are less certain. This may be why more millennials (15 percent) are likely to rank an employer’s retirement plan as the most important factor when taking a new job compared with GenXers (5 percent) and baby boomers (5 percent).

Older generations had unions to negotiate benefits for them. Millennials might realize they have to do it all themselves, but they aren’t negotiating for salaries high enough to allow them to save.

And union benefits or not, 64 percent of boomers, 79 percent of Gen Xers and even 17 percent of currently retired workers plan to work in retirement.

People don't talk to anyone but a spouse about retirement savings. (Photo: iStock)

3. A failure to communicate.

Lack of communications is probably not surprising, since most people won’t talk about savings anyway.

Fifty-four percent of respondents say that the only person they feel comfortable discussing their current retirement savings with is their spouse or partner. Only 36 percent would discuss the subject with family, and only 22 percent would talk with friends about it.

And as for coworkers? Just 6 percent would talk about retirement savings with colleagues—although more communication on the topic no doubt could provide quite an education on both sides of the discussion.

Many feel confident in their retirement preparation, compared to others they know. (Photo: Getty)

2. Misplaced confidence.

They won’t talk about it, but they think they do better than others at saving for retirement. How might that be, when they don’t know what others are doing about retirement?

Forty-three percent of workers say they are better at saving than their friends, while 28 percent believe they’re doing better at it than coworkers; 27 percent think they’re doing better than their spouse or partner, 27 percent say they’re doing better than their parents and 24 percent say they’re beating out their siblings.

All without talking about it.

Millennials especially are DIY retirement investors. (Photo: Shutterstock)

1. DIY.

They’re struggling to figure out how much they need, many won’t talk about retirement savings even with those closest to them and they’re anticipating working into retirement—but millennials in particular are taking a more hands-on approach to their investments.

Doing it oneself could actually be a good thing, since it could mean the 70 percent of millennials, 72 percent of GenXers and 57 percent of boomers who are taking the reins into their own hands better understand what they’re investing in and how they need to structure their portfolios.

However, doing it oneself without sufficient understanding—and millennials in particular are also most likely to describe their investment personality as “DIY,” with 32 percent making their own rules when it comes to investments, compared to 19 percent of all respondents—can be a problem.

After all, as the saying goes, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

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