United States of Aging: Boomers’ Optimism for Retirement Doesn’t Always Match Reality

Despite widespread optimism among older adults regarding aging and their future quality of life, not all are actually prepared for either the health or financial challenges they’ll likely face in old age, finds a June 2012 survey from the National Council on Aging, UnitedHealthcare, and USA TODAY.

A majority (70%) of the 2,250 U.S. adults aged 60 and older interviewed for the inaugural United States of Aging Survey said the past year of their lives has been normal or better than normal, and more than three-quarters of the 60-69 group expect their quality of life to stay the same or improve in the next five to ten years.

Nationally, 69% of respondents said they were somewhat or very confident that their financial plan is sufficient to last all through retirement, and 64% don’t have difficulty paying their monthly living expenses.

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But not everyone is confident their finances will last as long as they need them to, as 15% of surveyed seniors think their money will run out in retirement, and 8% don’t actually have a financial plan for retirement. Another significant chunk of respondents, at about 25%, reported that they’re currently having trouble with monthly living expenses, while a third said they won’t be able to afford future long-term care services.

Concerns about financial instability were seen most often in the 40% of survey respondents with incomes that are considered low to moderate, at about $30,000 or less a year, notes the National Council on Aging. Nearly half of this group isn’t confident their income will cover their monthly expenses in the next five to ten years.

“The most vulnerable older adults, who are also most in need of health care, economic help and support services to remain independent and ‘age in place,’ are the least confident they will be able to get the help they need,” said Rick Birkel, Ph.D., acting senior vice president, healthy aging, and director of the NCOA’s Self-Management Alliance.

While there are underlying concerns regarding financial security in retirement among certain demographic sectors of older adults, many boomers who have not yet retired believe they’ll be ready—whether that’s realistic or not.

A recent survey of people aged 55 and older who have not yet retired, conducted by national homebuilder PulteGroup, Inc. (NYSE:PHM), found that 61% plan to retire in the next 10 years, and that nearly half believe they’re financially prepared to retire in the same time period they had originally planned on, despite the economic downturn.

Economy-spurred financial challenges notwithstanding, many older adults don’t think they need to put off retirement and believe they’re ready, said Deborah Meyers, senior vice president of PulteGroup.

Other studies haven’t revealed quite the same attitudes as those in the PulteGroup survey. An AARP “anxiety index” surveying 50+ voters reveals economic issues will have a lot of impact in this year’s presidential and congressional elections.

For non-retired boomers, retirement has a pessimistic tinge. Nearly three-quarters of survey respondents believe they’ll have to delay retirement, and nearly two-thirds worry they won’t have enough to retire.

Fully half of these voters, at 50%, don’t think they’ll ever be able to retire, while nearly 60% believe the economic downturn will force them to rely more on Social Security and Medicare.

Research from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College finds that slightly more than half of today’s workers are at ‘at risk’ of being able to maintain their current standards of living in retirement—and that’s using relatively conservative assumptions, says Andrew Eschtruth, the Center’s associate director for external relations. That means the number of ‘at risk’ households could actually be higher.

People are living longer and many of them have a positive outlook on their future, according to the NCoA/UnitedHealthcare/USA TODAY and PulteGroup surveys. Ultimately, though, while many seniors may feel confident going forward, not all of them have realistic expectations of what their retirement might look like, especially in terms of health and finances.

View the Topline Results from The United States of Aging survey.

Written by Alyssa Gerace

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