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Do retirement expectations match reality?

Do retirement expectations match reality?

Category: Retirement

Updated: 15/03/2016
First Published: 07/03/2016

This article was correct at the time of publication. It is now over 6 months old so the content may be out of date.

Whether you're decades away from retirement or are getting closer to the big event, you're bound to have a few ideas of what your golden years will entail. The question is, will your expectations match up to reality? Aviva has taken a closer look…

Better than expected…

The research found that, happily, retirement actually exceeds expectations for many of today's retirees, with 62% of those surveyed feeling that their experience of retirement is better than expected, and 29% feeling that it's much better.

It seems that many are more content than the younger generations, too, with a further 62% of retirees describing themselves as happy, compared with just 42% of those who are not yet retired. Retirees are also twice as likely as unretired people to be extremely happy (14% vs. 7%), and to feel in complete control of their lives and decisions (39% vs. 17%).

They're also significantly more likely to feel fulfilled in life (63% vs. 40%) and are almost twice as likely to feel happy with their finances (55% vs. 30%), and perhaps surprisingly, their health appears to improve, too: the figures show that retirees are more content with their general health (53% vs. 50%), diet (66% vs. 48%) and sleep (53% vs. 39%) than those yet to retire, which perhaps hints at the higher stress levels of younger age groups.

Not only that, but their lifestyle appears to improve, too, with retirees being happier with the amount of exercise they get (45% vs. 39%) and time spent on leisure pursuits (73% vs. 42%), and they're also more likely to feel physically well (57% vs. 51%). They're also more content with the time spent with family (75% vs. 62%), friends (73% vs. 53%) and on their own (77% vs. 68%), and even among those who still work, retirees are more content (78% vs. 44%) and fulfilled (78% vs. 47%) than unretired workers.

… but planning is key

However, despite this level of positivity, there's one clear thing that set current retirees on the path to greater fulfilment and happiness – forward planning. The research found that being comfortable enough not to worry about money is by far the most important financial objective for retirement, shared by 74% of adults aged 30+, but leaving things too late can seriously jeopardise that goal.

For example, just 36% who left their planning until they'd retired have been able to achieve a stress-free retirement, compared with 66% who started planning well in advance. Among those who started planning early, 69% feel happy or very happy, while 68% feel their retirement exceeds expectations, 72% have enough money to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle, and 65% are happy with their financial situation.

Compare this with the feelings of those who didn't start planning until they retired, and the importance of preparation is clear: unprepared retirees are twice as likely to feel that retirement is worse than they expected (11% vs. 5%), and are more than twice as likely to be unhappy with their financial situation (21% vs. 9%), highlighting the need to start planning early.

Unfortunately, the message doesn't appear to be getting through, with 49% of respondents in their 50s saying they haven't done anything to start planning for their retirement, rising to 54% among those in their 40s. It isn't much better for those closer to retirement, either, with 27% saying they haven't done anything to prepare – and just 17% have made a full financial plan or will do so before retirement.

"These findings are inspiring and alarming in equal measure," said Rodney Prezeau of Aviva UK Life. "On the one hand, it is reassuring to see the ideal of a happy retirement exists, and that many of today's retirees find the experience exceeds their expectations. This shows that planning ahead can greatly improve your chances of finding fulfilment.

"At the same time, the relative happiness of current retirees begs the question: is this a golden generation, unlikely to be seen again? It may be no surprise that many people leave their retirement planning to chance, but… planning ahead and taking matters into your own hands is becoming ever more important to increase your chances of achieving a comfortable retirement."

What next?

Read our retirement and pension guides to start your retirement planning journey

Disclaimer: Information is correct as of the date of publication (shown at the top of this article). Any products featured may be withdrawn by their provider or changed at any time.