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Retirement fears do not play out in reality, survey shows

When many in the workforce daydream about retirement, the idyllic images that flood their minds sometimes get drowned out by fears of the unknown.

While those fears are natural, those who know what retirement is really like shared some encouraging perspectives in the 2024 MassMutual Retirement Happiness Study.

While 43% of pre-retirees surveyed said they’re worried about having enough money to support themselves or their families in retirement, just 14% of retirees reported those same concerns. Forty-six percent of retirees reported fewer financial problems than expected, with just 10% reporting more problems than expected.

Seventy-eight percent of retirees said they have more than they need or about what they need in retirement savings.

The study surveyed 2,000 Americans at least 40 years old with at least $50,000 saved and who at least share in their households’ financial decision-making. The retirees surveyed have been retired 15 years or fewer, while the pre-retirees consider themselves to be within 15 years of retirement.

Both groups on average viewed 63 as the ideal age to retire. Those already retired did so at age 62 on average.

Don’t worry, be happy?

The retirees’ responses regarding finances suggest that many pre-retirees may be worrying over nothing. But that worry may be what will drive pre-retirees to take actions that will allow for a happy retirement.

About two-thirds of retirees said they were contributing to a retirement account and were working to increase their savings at least five years before retirement. Those surveyed in pre-retirement said they’re doing the same at strikingly similar rates.

Happiness in retirement, however, isn’t just about money. Just 39% of retirees prioritized their health at least five years before retirement by exercising, eating healthy, etc. However, among the 27% who said they are “much more happy” in retirement, 49% took care of their health.

Among pre-retirees, 66% said they are currently prioritizing their health.

“MassMutual’s research on retirement happiness underscores the importance of managing expectations and preparing for retirement both financially and emotionally,” Paul LaPiana, MassMutual’s head of brand, product, and affiliated distribution, said in a news release. “The happiest retirees invest not just in their financial futures but also in their social circles and physical health long before retirement.”

Two-thirds of retirees said they are happier in retirement, with 82% reporting feeling more relaxed on a typical day and 75% reporting less stress. However, among those who say they aren’t happier in retirement, 47% report feeling lonely at times.

Working into retirement?

Some pre-retirees feel like they’ll be working into retirement either by choice or necessity. Not many retirees, however, are working.

While 28% of pre-retirees said they anticipate having to take a part-time job once retired to deal with finances, just 6% of retirees said they had done so.

Times, however, could be changing. While just 19% of those now retired for between 11 and 15 years said they’re facing financial uncertainty, 29% of those who retired in the past five years say they are.

Still, 73% of all retirees said they’re not working. Just 45% of pre-retirees said they are looking forward to not working.

The numbers suggest that in the coming years, more retirees will be working, some perhaps by choice. While 60% of retirees defined retirement as “an end to working,” just 44% of pre-retirees did.

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