The average retired boomer says she will be "old" at 79. (Photo: Courtesy Raymond James, from TV ad)

If present trends continue, Americans might not be as bad off for retirement as once thought. While it’s admittedly still a very big “if,” the MetLife Mature Market Institute reports that one year into baby boomer retirement almost one-half (45%) of 65-year-olds are now fully retired (up from 19% in 2008).

“Despite the conventional wisdom that boomers are ready to ‘work forever’ and significantly extend their formal working career, many of the oldest boomers are already well into the retirement phase,” the institute says in a report. “Almost twice as many 65-year-olds in 2011 stated that they were fully retired as were working full-time at age 65 (45% versus 24% respectively). A large majority of those who have transitioned into their retirement also report that they are well satisfied with this new stage of their lives.”

Of those still working, over one-third anticipated that they will retire within the coming year, when they turn 66 and are eligible for full Social Security retirement benefits. Despite this anticipation, a small minority (15%) are unconvinced of the Social Security program’s long-term sustainability, and slightly more (21%) are fully convinced that it will be around. Almost two-thirds (63%) are also currently collecting Social Security retirement benefits. At the same time, of the 65-year old boomers who have not retired, many are considering working until even longer than in the past. Consistent with prior studies, major concerns are having adequate finances, staying active and productive and covering long-term care costs.

With a large majority of these oldest boomers without a living parent (76%) and 83% of those with children now also having grandchildren, much of their attention has turned to these younger generations. Of the approximately one in four who have at least one living parent, the incidence and activity of elder care has remained steady at 14%.

The respondents also revealed that concerns about the recession may be waning, although it still clearly concerns many, with 43% expressing optimism about the future (next 25 years). In this regard, 25% relate it to their personal finances and 22% to their health. Of those pessimistic, most attribute this to the government (49%) or the economy (21%).

Although health reasons play a major role in the decision to retire earlier than anticipated, a majority report good health and more than two-thirds report no change in their health status. This may be a factor in why the oldest boomers continue to push back the age at which they view themselves as old, now postponing this declaration until age 79, a full year later than they indicated in 2007.

Almost four in 10 respondents (37%) who retired earlier than they had planned cite health-related reasons for doing so; another 16% cited loss of a job or job opportunities. Those who retired later than they had planned mention needing a salary to pay for day-to-day expenses (27%) and a desire to stay active (13%) as the reasons for delaying retirement.

The majority of the oldest boomers (63%) have also started receiving Social Security benefits; of those, half started collecting before they had originally planned. Six in 10 boomers are at least somewhat confident in the ability of Social Security to provide adequate benefits for their lifetime.

Seven in 10 retirees report liking retirement “a lot” while another two in 10 say they “like it somewhat.” The majority of boomers like the word “retirement” to describe their life stage and feel it is as they expected it to be.