The shimmering dream of retirement beckons to many people as the primary goal of work. Retirement holds the promise, finally, of time to call your own and the chance to pursue what matters most to you if work has kept you from it.
Retirement, though — at least the 20th-century middle-class ideal of it in the United States — is under siege. Here are nine reasons why, for many Americans, retirement may not be what they dreamed.
1. You might have to retire before you’re ready. Forty-nine percent of retirees surveyed in 2012 had to retire sooner than they’d planned, usually because of health problems, according to the Retirement Income Reference Bookpublished by LIMRA, a research firm focused on insurance and financial services.
Other reasons that early retirement is forced on workers include job loss or burnout and negative work conditions, reports Mark Miller, publisher of Retirement Revised.
2. It’s no fun hanging out with your spouse 24/7. Financial planners say many couples have trouble getting used to spending more time together. Writes MainStreet.com:
“Everyone gets excited about retirement — they think they’re going to walk out the door and never look back and spend their days relaxing and traveling with their spouse, but then they get home and they find they can’t actually stand the person they’ve been married to for the last 30 years,” says Deana Arnett, senior planning consultant at Rosenthal Wealth Management Group. “I’ve seen it happen more times than I care to tell you.”
To be sure, many couples love 24/7 togetherness. But not everyone. A financial planner I know sees the toll retirement can take on marriages. He observes that husbands who have been extremely focused on their jobs in particular seem to struggle with the hole it leaves in their lives after they stop working.
Relationships can endure this transition. Finding retirement pursuits that give life meaning — philanthropy or volunteering, and not just a life built around golf and travel — will give both spouses a sense of renewal.
For some ideas, check out 12 Ways to Connect and Contribute in Your Community after Retiring.
3. It’s boring. When you hate your boss and feel overwhelmed by work, it may be hard to imagine, but retirees often long for the camaraderie, structure and sense of purpose work delivers. Not to mention the money.
A funny, engaging blog, Retirement: A Fulltime Job, tracks the evolution of former CPA Sydney Lagier, who retired in 2008 at age 44. After two months of retirement, she sounded a little surprised to find that retirement hadn’t changed her much, inside:
What will you spend your time doing after you retire? Whatever you spent your time doing before you retired, minus the job. While I’m sure my interests will evolve over the years (just as they did while I was working), I now spend my time doing exactly what I did before I retired, only more of it.
As it turns out, she has dipped in and out of retirement since. “Maybe I was taking retirement for granted, maybe I just needed to shake things up a bit,” she writes, about taking part-time consultant work.
She’s not the only retiree to crave stimulation. “[M]any new retirees find themselves easily bored without working part-time, even if they don’t need a paycheck,” Next Avenue writes.
At The Wall Street Journal, a panel of experts advises taking on new challenges by learning, working, advising, volunteering and experimenting. One aging expert says she learned that saying, “Yes,” to new experiences opens doors to much-needed variety.
4. Working until age 70 may not be an option. In an astounding show of grit, nearly 75 percent of preretirees surveyed by LIMRA said they expect to work in retirement.
Sadly, for most, that vow stands to be derailed by life’s realities. Today, three-quarters of retirees are not working, LIMRA says.
In recently published research, the AARP Public Policy Institute says:
Extended unemployment, coupled with age discrimination and other barriers, can add to the challenges older workers face in finding a job. Even older jobseekers who do find work may have trouble recovering financially. Many end up accepting jobs at lower pay, with fewer hours, and with limited benefits.
Depending on your profession, it might be wise to invest in disability insurance.Click here to learn about the costs and considerations.
5. Money’s tight — really tight. Although Social Security pays only $1,290 a month, on average, most retirees have very little money in savings. In its annual Retirement Confidence Survey this year, the Employment Benefit Research Institute looked at the savings of current retirees, not including the value of a primary residence or a defined-benefit pension, reporting that:
- 35 percent have less than $1,000 in savings.
- 61 percent have less than $50,000 in savings.
Poverty already has a firm grip on 3.5 million to 6 million seniors, depending on how your measure it. Fifteen percent of people 65 and older are living at the poverty level, and nearly half of them live on less than the supplemental poverty level, another measure of low-income status, according to this report to Congress by the Kaiser Foundation. Older women and minorities are by far hardest-hit.
Even if these percentages stay steady, millions more seniors stand to fall into poverty as the baby boom generation, now ages 51 to 69, becomes elderly. But current trends suggest that poverty will increase.
“With the decline in employer-sponsored pensions and retiree health coverage, fewer retirees in the future will have benefits that have helped keep seniors from falling into poverty,” the Kaiser study says.
6. It’s hard to get used to growing old. Growing old is a lot like being a teenager. Your body and your looks change rapidly and that can be surprising and discomforting. Lagier captures this with humor. Shocked when well-intentioned bystanders stood up to offer her their seats, she described her “three phases of aging”:
The first phase is where you feel young because you actually are young. The third phase is where you feel old because you actually are old. And the phase in between is where you feel young but everyone thinks you need to sit down.
A more scholarly look at the stages of retirement outlined here on the Ohio State University website was devised by Robert Atchley, a leader in the field of gerontology. There’s preretirement planning and the exciting early phase of retirement. Those give way to disenchantment followed by a phase of reorientation. After that, retirees typically settle into a new life routine, he observed.
That all sounds bumpy but pretty good, except that Atchley’s last stage closes with the onset of illness, disability or death.
That inevitability can be tough to deal with, especially if you’ve made plans only for your finances. Before you receive that gold watch for retirement, do some thinking about what you want your retirement life to look like. This websiteprovides a reading list to help you think about the process of aging, finding meaning in retirement and coping with mortality.
7. You might spend a lot of it caring for old parents. Taking on the care of elderly parents forces many workers, women particularly, into retirement. Eldercare consultant Carol Bradley Bursack got an earful when she wroteShould You Quit Your Job to Care for Your Elderly Parent? at AgingCare.com. More than 100 readers commented, many describing their anguish at having to choose between their financial security and caring full-time for parents. One, “Caregiveryes,” tells of managing her own aging and health problems along with her parents’:
It was sad when Mom passed away, but I was physically and emotionally spent and had to take early retirement. My marriage also suffered. Weekend evenings out with friends dwindled to none. My husband and I have already made arrangements so our children do not even have to consider taking on this responsibility. And, it has nothing to do with love or commitment, for me it was more than I could handle physically and emotionally.
Another, “Bruce1013,” writes:
In 2006 I quit my job and apparently lost a good career to become full-time caregiver for my 87 y/o mother. She suffered a stroke while hospitalized with double pneumonia and I was told in no uncertain terms she would need to spend the rest of her life in a full-time care facility. I decided then and there my mother would spend her remaining days in the home she had lived in since 1950 so I moved in and became her caregiver.
… I am now 57 years old and no one in my previous field will hire me. Interviewers give me “reasons” I don’t get hired but I know it’s simply because of age.
8. You could pick up an STD. Seniors, including 72 percent of men and 45 percent of women ages 57 to 72, are sexually active, says this study from The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences.
Well, good for them, you might say. But STDs are growing fast among the older set. When you think about retirement communities, “[t]hink about sex — unsafe sex,” writes The New York Times:
Combine retirement communities, longer life, unfamiliarity with condoms and Viagra — and what do you get? You get an S.T.D. epidemic among the Social Security generation that rivals what we imagine is happening in those “Animal House” fraternities.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports a rise, between 2007 and 2011, in cases of chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease, among Americans 55 and older.
- Nearly a quarter of people with HIV virus infections are 55 or older,according to the CDC.
- Cases of syphilis are on the increase in the 55-plus group, too.
STDs are growing faster in areas where retirees cluster, points out Psychology Today:
For instance, in Arizona’s retirement-heavy (and, for what it’s worth, extremely socially and politically conservative) Pima and Maricopa counties, reported cases of syphilis and chlamydia among those 55 and older rose 87 percent from 2005 to 2009. Central Florida saw a 71 percent rise in the same timeframe, and South Florida saw a 60 percent rise.
The solution? Simple: use condoms.
9. You may outlive your money. Longer lifespans today put the nest eggs of even the most-scrupulous retirement savers at risk of being exhausted in their owners’ lifetimes. Six in 10 financial advisers predict that their clients could outlive their income, LIMRA finds.
What’s worse, just a quarter of preretirees believe they’re at risk to outlive their income, LIMRA says. In fact, only a third of people near or in retirement have even tried to calculate how long their assets will last.
This unpleasant outcome can be avoided in many cases, but it’s a lot easier if we pull our heads out of the sand. For ideas on how to save enough for retirement, and how to invest it, check out The 10 Golden Rules of Retiring Rich, Retiring soon? Don’t Make These Money Mistakes and Could You Retire Early? Take this Test to Find Out, just for starters.
What’s your idea of an ideal retirement and what are your fears? Share your thoughts and questions in comments below or on our Facebook page.
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