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Americans Would Rather Talk About Sex or Death Than Retirement

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Americans are more likely to have talked about their own death than retirement, and they’re more comfortable having the “birds and the bees” talk than any conversation related to money.

Northwestern Mutual’s “2014 Planning and Progress Study” found that conversations about money outrank any other uncomfortable conversation topic among Americans—including the “birds and the bees,” asking adult-age children to get a job or move out, and death.

According to the study, more than two in five Americans have not spoken to anyone about their retirement. Only 39% of those surveyed have talked to their spouse or partner about retirement.

“Starting the dialogue can be the most difficult part, but people need to realize the significant benefits of openly communicating their financial and retirement goals,” said Greg Oberland, Northwestern Mutual president, in a statement. “A financial professional can be a valuable resource who can facilitate discussions about long-term goals and planning; listen to your needs and goals; and work with you to remove anxiety about affording retirement.”

The study also found that those who were nearest to retirement age were the least optimistic that they will retire at the “traditional” age of 65.

Those who are currently working feel they will retire at a much later age than those who are currently retired (68 years old for those working versus 59, the age current retirees left the work force). Looking ahead to retirement, nearly two in five adults (38%) now estimate that they will have to work until age 75 or older before they can retire.

While many adults find it difficult to discuss death preparations with their immediate family or estate planning with their parents, money-related conversations are the most difficult for U.S. adults.

When asked about a range of sensitive subjects, those surveyed found these topics the most difficult to talk to others about: asking to borrow money from parents, asking for money back that they loaned a friend or family member, asking for a raise or promotion, and discussing the long-term care needs of parents.

“Conversations related to money are more awkward than many of the topics we asked about, but they are conversations that have to take place, especially in today’s challenging economic environment,” said Oberland.

The “2014 Planning and Progress Study,” which is an annual research project that explores attitudes and behaviors toward finances and planning, surveyed online 2,092 American adults aged 18 or older between Jan. 21 and Feb. 5. —Emily Zulz