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Hopes, Fears and Reality of Retirement

Author: MassMutual Retirement Services : Contact:

Published: 2014-12-12

Synopsis and Key Points:

New MassMutual study finds pre-retiree fears unfounded and most retirees well adjusted both emotionally and financially.

Main Digest

Nearly one in two Americans retire earlier than expected, yet retirees overwhelmingly report that they are enjoying themselves and discovering that pre-retirement fears of boredom, financial insecurity and lacking purpose are largely unfounded, according to a new study released today by MassMutual Retirement Services. The biggest lesson for retirement success: plan as soon as possible for both your emotional and financial well-being, as you are likely to retire sooner than planned.

"MassMutual's research on retirees and pre-retirees tells us that retirement can be and should be an extraordinarily happy time in our lives as long as we start to strengthen our emotional bonds and exercise financial planning discipline well before we plan to retire," said Elaine Sarsynski, Executive Vice President, MassMutual Retirement Services. "The happiest retirees provide us with a roadmap for success, which is especially instructive for those who are close to embarking on the journey."

The 2014 study of retirees and pre-retirees, Hopes, Fears and Reality - What Workers Expect in Retirement and What Steps Help Them Achieve the Retirement They Want ( - was conducted by Greenwald & Associates on behalf of MassMutual. The study finds that retirees indicate high levels of emotional well-being, enjoyment and financial security. For instance, 72 percent of retirees report being "extremely or quite happy," 67 percent say they're "extremely or quite relaxed," and 66 percent say they are financially secure. Few characterize themselves as stressed, frustrated, lonely or distressed.

"Retirees express positive sentiments about their lives despite that nearly half (45 percent) retire earlier than planned," said Mathew Greenwald, President and CEO, Greenwald & Associates. "The most frequently cited reasons for earlier-than-planned retirement are changes at work (44 percent) and being able to afford to retire sooner rather than later (39 percent). On a positive note, the majority (79 percent) of those who retired early have no regrets about their decision."

Lessons Learned

The study finds a strong relationship between happiness and planning as retirees who express the highest levels of satisfaction are also those who took concrete steps to put both their emotional and financial lives in order at least five years or more before retirement:

Retirement Surprises

Despite planning, many retirees report positive or negative surprises once they retired. The biggest positive surprises were having no time constraints and more freedom (23 percent), keeping busy and active (18 percent), having time with family and friends (11 percent) and being in a good financial position (10 percent). Negative surprises included having financial problems (17 percent), being too busy (13 percent), or suffering an illness or disability (10 percent). The fact that one in six has unexpected financial problems indicates that more efforts at financial planning are needed.


Retirees demonstrate an ability to adapt to changing circumstances, indicating increased satisfaction, improved ability to manage spending, and greater feelings of financial security as their tenure in retirement grows, the study found. Although unexpected life events can occur, focus groups found that retirees adapt financially by finding creative ways to cut expenses without giving up activities they enjoy.

Positive Experience

Overall, retirees report lives that are quite positive, including enjoying themselves (82 percent), having more free time (80 percent), and having new experiences (69 percent). In some instances, the expectations of pre-retirees about retirement fall short of the actual experience, such as 79 percent of pre-retirees anticipating new experiences. Few (6 percent) made plans to start a new career.

Fear and Anxiety

Although pre-retirees express fears they will be anxious about financial uncertainty in retirement (44 percent), they will not know what to do without their jobs (31 percent) and they will be bored (26 percent), few retirees find this to be the case (31 percent, 14 percent and 19 percent respectively), according to the study.

Concerns about retirement decrease as pre-retirees approach retirement. For example, 31 percent of pre-retirees who are 11-15 years away from retirement say they are looking forward to the experience with very few or no concerns compared to 43 percent less than five years away. Forty-six percent of those within one year of retirement had very few or no concerns.

Feelings of financial security build as pre-retirees get closer to retirement and continue to rise through retirement. Only 63 percent of pre-retirees 11-15 years out feel they are financially on track, compared to 82 percent of those retiring in less than five years.

Emotional Well-Being

Positive emotions increase and negative emotions decrease for retirees. The study finds that retirees are happier, more relaxed and less stressed than pre-retirees: "extremely happy" (72 percent compared to 61 percent, respectively), "extremely relaxed" (67 percent, compared to 34 percent, respectively) and moderately stressed (17 percent, compared to 43 percent, respectively). Still, pre-retirees overestimated the extent to which retirement would have a positive emotional impact, with 86 percent of pre-retirees expecting a least moderate excitement in retirement compared to 71 percent of retirees who say they feel this way.

Study Methodology

The study presents the results of research conducted by Greenwald & Associates, on behalf of MassMutual, examining pre-retirees' expectations and preparations for retirement, and how those plans and visions compare to the actual experiences that people have after they retire. The research was conducted in two parts: a survey of pre-retirees and retirees, and four focus groups (two of retirees only and two of pre-retirees only). The study surveyed 1,817 pre-retirees and retirees who were either one to 15 years into retirement or one to 15 years away from retirement. Respondents were required to be at least 40 years old, have at least $50,000 in savings and investments, and at least share a role in the household's financial decision-making. The margin of error is plus or minus 2 percent.

For more information about MassMutual's Retirement Services Division, please contact your financial professional or call MassMutual at 1-800-874-2502, option 4.

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