NPR Poll: 25% of Retirees Think Life is Worse than Before

Pre-retirees’ expectations for retirement aren’t matching up with the reality of some who have already retired, according to a poll from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), and Harvard School of Public Health.

People aged 50 and older who have either retired already, plan to retire (pre-retiree), or have no plans to retire were polled on their views and experiences related to retirement, conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health.

One quarter of retirees think life in retirement is worse than it was before, the poll finds, showing stark differences between what pre-retirees think retirement will be like, and what retirees are reporting as their experience. However, a majority of retirees, at 44%, think life in retirement is the same, and 29% think it’s better, than it was in the five years before they retired, compared to the 25% who say life is worse.


“Those of us over 50 and working are optimistic about our future health and health care, but that optimism is not necessarily shared by those who have already retired,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA, president and CEO of the RWJF, in a statement. “Many people who have already retired say their health is worse, and they worry about costs of medical treatment and long-term care.”

Health and finances are two major concerns among both retirees and pre-retirees. The poll shows that only 14% of pre-retirees think life will be worse overall after retiring, with 13% predicting their health will worsen, compared to 39% of retirees who say it actually is.

Similarly, far fewer pre-retirees, at 22%, think their financial situation will worsen, while 35% of those who have already retired report their finances as worse than before.


“The poll shows that a significant number of people who are near retirement may be underestimating the challenges of retirement,” said Robert Blendon, professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health, in a statement. “When you compare what people think retirement will be like with what retirees say it actually is like, there are big differences. Pre-retirees may underestimate the degree to which their health and finances may be worse in retirement.”

While pre-retirees and retirees differ in their views on the future of Medicare, neither group wants a complete overhaul of the program, the poll reports. Pre-retirees are less confident, at 38%, that Medicare will provide benefits of at least equal value to current benefits, compared to 52% of retirees.

It makes sense, then that nearly half of pre-retireees, at 47%, want major changes in the Medicare program, compared to 32% of those in retirement. Only 10% of pre-retirees and even fewer retirees, at 7%, expect Medicare to pay the majority of their costs for three months in a nursing home, and both groups say Medicaid will have little role in paying for their long-term nursing home care, if they were to need it.

However, about 30% of pre-retirees worry about the potential costs of health care insurance premiums and long-term care, with more than a quarter believing they’ll have trouble paying medical bills.

“Insights from the poll can help policy-makers and others think about how to meet the needs of aging Americans,” said Lavizzo-Mourey. “There are changes we can make to our health care system, finances, and communities that might help ensure that our retirement years will be as fulfilling as we hope.”

Written by Alyssa Gerace