I thoroughly enjoy the regular polls that Gallup releases. I am aware of all the flaws and pitfalls of these surveys. Indeed, each new sample provides an opportunity to sharpen one’s statistical cynicism.

Sometimes, however, they offer insights into specific aspects of the American psyche, helping to clarify my thinking about societal, economic and market sentiment.

The latest poll, illustrated by the chart below, is no different. It found that the average age at which Americans report retiring is 62, the highest since Gallup started asking the question in 1991. Current expectations for retirement have increased to age 66, up from 63 in 2002.


There are numerous reasons for this.

Living longer: Lifespans in the U.S. have increased. This is taking place at both ends of the age scale; infant mortality is down and there are many more octogenarians. If you are going to live longer, you will need more money in retirement.

Better health: Obesity aside, Americans are healthier later in their lives than they were just a few decades ago. This might be contributing to people being able to work later in life.

More service and office jobs: Manual labor is difficult, wearing on the body over time. The big increase in office and service jobs means that you can continue working even after your physical prime.

Financial needs: Not having enough cash to retire is another reason people retire later. Another poll found this was Americans’ top financial concern. Wells Fargo noted that the value of financial investments is often the main force driving retirement expectations. The impact of the financial crisis on the savings of those near retirement is another factor.

Retire and die: Retirement age may be increasing because many baby boomers are reluctant to retire. This may be purely anecdotal, but too many people have seen retirees settle into their new life on a golf-course community, and then promptly drop dead. Work and live, retire and die seems to be the message for some.

A few statistical oddities: Like all polls, people say they expect to do one thing, but typically end up doing something else. Gallup notes that since they began tracking the issue of when people plan on retiring, expectations are “consistently higher than the average age at which they actually retire.”

Now here’s my favorite statistic from the survey: Some 11 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds polled expect to retire before age 55. Unless as a group they manage to stash away a lot more money during their working years than any other group, this isn’t going to happen. If anything, as longevity rises, retirement ages will head even higher. These people are in for a surprise.

Originally published here


Category: Data Analysis, Employment

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

17 Responses to “Work harder. Retire Later. Live Longer.”

  1. WFTA says:

    Having once resided between the ages of 18 and 29, I can attest that people of that age have yet to confront, or be confronted by, reality.

    What surprises me is that people have been retiring on average 4 years earlier than they had planned even though most surveys that I’ve seen indicate they cannot possible afford it. Is everybody qualifying for disability?

    • Iamthe50percent says:

      If one is around 60 and loses one’s job, the chances for being employed again are zero. At 62 you get what you can. For those in the goft cart retirement communities it may be different, but for working America, it takes a stroke of lightning to be hired over age 50 and a miracle at 60. I had a stroke of lightning, a job far below my education opened at the USPS, which is the ONLY non-discriminating employer. You take a test. You beat everyone else. You get hired. One Two Three, but glacially slow. Gender, race, age make no difference, which probably explains why my fellows are predominately female black and OLD. I’m white male, the youngest white male I work with is 54. The oldest is 80 (with no retirement plans). Outsourcing has destroyed American employment.

    • zero529 says:

      I, too, was surprised to see the lower number — BUT then, 10 years ago, the “average” worker (how old were they?) expected to retire at age 63, and instead today’s “average retirees” are calling it quits at 62. How many years back in the survey do you need to go to find out when today’s “average retiree” was an “average worker” responding to the survey? Maybe they actually did have their acts together, making it possible to meet their retirement goals . . .

    • BennyProfane says:

      No, they’re getting laid off, and couldn’t buy a job after that, if they’re over 55.

  2. cowboyinthejungle says:

    Agreed on the 18-29 age group, WFTA. KISS says it is a simple case of the unrealistic optimism of youth, not anything psychologically different about Millenials. I’m not sure whether that is what you were implying or not BR, but your comment read that way to me. If you DO think there’s some bigger underlying point, please share it.

    Futility: a possible answer to the question of why people are retiring early despite not being able to afford it. If the typical retirement age person has only ~$25k saved over 40 years, as we’re so often told, an extra 4 years of work is not going to solve their financial shortfall. i.e. If I’m faced with two possibilities, a) working to 66 & living strictly on SS from 70 on, or b) working to 62 & living strictly on SS from 65 on, you could understand why many folks would choose the latter. I’m not advocating the choice, mind you, but I’m not a 62 year old burnt out on 40 years of 9-to-5, either.

  3. SecondLook says:

    There is a problem about the language of retirement, which the Gallup poll didn’t address at all.

    If you work part time but draw SS and/or a pension, are you retired?
    If you collect SSDI ,the disability part of Social Security, do you considered that being retired? (Technically, no – retirement is presumed to be a voluntary condition, being completely disabled clearly isn’t.)

    The idea of retirement really is a very recent concept. Historically people in all walks of life worked until they were either physically or mentally unable to do so – princes and paupers, doctors and ditch-diggers. It wasn’t only an economic necessity; being productive was a major part of who people were in in society.
    It’s arguable, I think, to say that perhaps retirement, is simply a fad idea that is going to fade away like so many others, and we’ll return to a more traditional, if not more organic, attitude about what we do with our lives.

    • rd says:

      Until the late 1800s, almost everybody was a farmer. They lived with their family on the farm from when they were born until they died. It was a Hobbesian world for most people – life was cold, brutal, and short.

      The Industrial Revolution changed that and suddenly people had non-farming jobs with companies. People moved away from the farm and often no longer lived with family. That is why Social Security became required in the 1930s as old people were living alone in poverty since they no longer had the family farm to rely on. They didn’t live much longer, but had lost the family safety net. People had quite a few children since mortality from infancy on was quite high.

      Since the introduction of modern medicine (I draw that line at the discovery of antibiotics which completely changed the probability of surviving an operation or disease – roughly WW II), we have expectations of many people living well past 65 for the first time in history. Longevity and outliving saved assets only became a major population-wide problem over the past 50 years or so. The baby boom reached their peak earning potential in the 1990s and the demographics have led to a quick decline of people in their peak earning years over the past decade. It is not a surprise that this is the time when we have to come to grips with a retirement “crisis”.

  4. gman says:

    The real upshot..find a career the won’t physically or mentally break you, hope to stay healthy and then hope you are not “found obsolete” in middle age.

  5. DeDude says:

    My guess is that a fair among of people are simply planning to deal with their lack of savings for retirement by continuing to work past 62. What they fail to understand is that many companies do not want people to continue after that age. So it does not surprise me that people end up retiring earlier than they had planned.

  6. Mr Reality says:

    People are “retiring” because they have no other choice. They can’t get hired because there is a glut of supply and little demand (also known as crappy employment climate syndrome).

    Also, ageism is a reality in the workplace that no one wants to acknowledge let alone do anything to mitigate it.

  7. 4whatitsworth says:

    Wow reading this thread one would be lead to believe that not having a job after 60 is someone else s fault. What about the young kids without jobs whose fault is that?

    • Cato says:

      Exactly my thoughts too, typically baby-boomer whinging.

    • cowboyinthejungle says:

      I don’t know about whining, but this is still a bad market for every age, in my field. Anecdotal, but I just met a freshly graduated woman with a hard science degree that was looking for 9 months before landing a part-time position, and a 40-something with extensive and valuable experience in biotech who can’t get a foot in the door for interview, even at positions below him. Point is that age is probably not the primary problem for older workers’ inability to find employment…it may be an additional hurdle, but it sucks for everyone.

  8. RW says:

    Posters have already pointed out some of the problems with the notion of reitirement but I question what seems to be the base assumption: People are living longer and/or maintaining reasonable health longer. I’m sure this is true for most readers of Bloomberg but it isn’t the case for poor people and/or those who do hard physical labor.

    Income Gap, Meet the Longevity Gap

    For the upper half of the income spectrum, men who reach the age of 65 are living about six years longer than they did in the late 1970s. Men in the lower half are living just 1.3 years longer.

    NB: The notion that we can raise the SS retirement and medicare age because people are living longer is fundamentally wrong because the people who need this safety net the most are commonly those who physically break down and/or don’t live much past 65 if they even make it that far. Don’t have the data at hand but ISTR that working class blacks are actually dying earlier now on average than they were twenty years ago; closer to 64 years than 65.

  9. WFTA says:

    Must agree about the difficulties of finding work in one’s late 50s. I spent a year and a half looking every day finding my current job, and I was only 45. Hiring is perverse.

    Fortunately that was a dozen years ago. Now after an adult life bereft of boats, motorcycles, sports cars, extramarital affairs, divorces and most especially children, I am about a year away from leaving bad management to fend for itself and retiring shortly before age 60.

  10. rd says:

    I think that this graph clearly shows why people recently have put off retirement until 62 on average:


    It appears that people at age 62 in 2010 were just getting to their total wealth-to-income ratio that people younger than 58 had in previous surveys from 1983 to 2007. The combination of reduced savings rate, the housing crash and the stock market collapse dramatically reduced their wealth compared to previous periods. If you combine that with low interest rates, low annuity payouts, and low stock dividends, the average person would have had a much lower standard of living in retirement if they retired at the same age in 2010 as previously. Many of the people younger than 62 simply weren’t positioned to retire, especially with the increasing reliance on their own savings instead of pensions.

  11. bear_in_mind says:

    I concur with many of the previous comments regarding what and how “retirement” is being measured. Collecting SSA and working part-time to sustain housing and food on the table can hardly be considered ‘retired.’

    Today’s NFP data clearly illustrates an increasing share of the population decoupling from the labor market (quite possibly permanently). Many commenters also noted that workers over 50 have disproportionately been targeted with layoffs and age discrimination in hiring.

    Whether you agree with Piketty or not, there are signs (see below) suggesting inequality and stratification are accelerating in a number of major metropolitan regions. Will it take the return of widespread soup kitchens and “Hoovervilles” to break America’s theistic fever of capitalism as religion?

    Up in Years and All but Priced Out of New York