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Reality Check: Will Your Life Be Better in Retirement?


One in four retirees say their lives are worse now than before they retired, according to a poll released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Harvard School of Public Health and National Public Radio.

The findings show sharp contrasts between workers’ expectations for retirement and what retirees say they actually experience. Some 1,254 adults over 50 were interviewed by phone from July 25 to Aug. 18, including 755 retirees and 409 pre-retirees. The margin of error was about 3 percentage points.

Among the findings:

A large majority of retirees say life in retirement is the same (44%) or better (29%) than in the five years before they retired. Many say they have lower stress levels, better relationships, improved diet and more time for favorite activities, according to the poll results.

Still, 25% say life is worse. And only 14% of pre-retirees expect that.

The situation’s much the same on the health front: 13% of pre-retirees expect their health to worsen, but 39% of retirees say it is. About three in 10 pre-retirees and retirees expect to live into their 90s – or beyond.

Pre-retirees may be overly optimistic about their nest eggs as well. Only 22% of pre-retirees say that their financial situation will be worse, while 35% of retirees say it is.

People who are still working expect to retire later than those already in retirement – and some say they never will fully retire. Some 60% expect to be at least 65 when they retire – but only 26% of those now retired waited that long to do so.

Finances play a big role in the decision to postpone or shun retirement. The primary reason for delay among 54% of pre-retirees who now plan to retire later than they did in their 40s is that they feel they can’t afford it. And 51% of those who say they’ll never fully retire say their lack of savings is the reason. (Test out your spending assumptions using our retirement calculator.)

Medicare, the government health program for people 65 and older, isn’t seen as rock-solid either. Among pre-retirees, 38% are “less confident” that Medicare will provide benefits of at least equal value to what retirees currently get.

And about a third of both pre-retirees and current retires say that waiting two more years to get Medicare benefits would be, or would have been, a major problem for them and their families.

For more information on the study, visit, and

How do these views match up with your own experiences?


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About Encore

  • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.