The doom and gloom around retirement seems endless: workers aren’t saving enough, their employers aren’t providing generous enough benefits and stand ready to can them even when those workers will need to work longer, and Social Security will run dry and lead to terrifying benefit cuts. Oh, and we all individually have nothing to look forward to in retirement but financial want, physical decrepitude and loneliness.
So for Thanksgiving, here’s some good news.
Retirees are generally happy with retirement.
That’s the consistent finding of multiple studies. Last fall, an article at CBS News summarized several of these. In one survey, most recent retirees said that life is better (35%) or the same (38%) in retirement than beforehand, compared to only 28% who find retirement worse. After ten years of retirement, retirees are even more satisfied, with only 17% expressing that retirement is worse than their lives while still working. Another study shows even higher satisfaction with retirement, as 93% said that life was the same or better in retirement than while working.
Retirement income is actually increasing, not decreasing.
[A recent] Census Bureau study found that the median retiree’s income rose by 32% above inflation from 1990 through 2012, a period during which SSA data show that real median wages for workers rose by only about 11%. When retirement incomes grow faster than worker earnings, retirees will generally have a greater ability to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living.
And incomes did not grow only at the median: over that same 1990-2012 period, incomes for lower-income retirees rose by 31% and the poverty rate among Americans 65 and older dropped from 9.7% to 6.7%, reflecting rising incomes even for poorest retirees.
Retirees’ health is improving relative to the past.
As tacky as it may be to quote myself, here’s an excerpt from a prior article:
There exists a metric developed by the World Health Organization, the Healthy Life Expectancy, or HALE, which is intended to measure the average number of years of “healthy life” at birth, or at a given age. According to this measure, the data for which is available beginning in 2000, American’s HALE is indeed improving. In 2016, men had 16.7 years of “healthy life,” on average, ahead of them at age 60, compared to 15.4 years in 2000. Women had 19.0 years, compared to 18.0 in 2000.
In addition, some research indicates that working until later in life, rather than impairing health, may be boosting it, by keeping people engaged for a longer period of time.
Services for retirees are increasing.
Yes, there are recurring worries about whether there will be sufficient numbers of geriatricians to care for the next generation of elderly patients. But this misses the fact that there is an increasing awareness of the value of geriatricians as medical care providers for the elderly, and growing levels of understanding of how best to meet their needs. There are nearly 10,000 senior centers across the United States, and experts are engaged in research to promote ways to make those centers more engaging and better at meeting their goals — even if it means dismantling the “senior” component of the senior center with programming for all ages. And the fears of an aging population producing ever-growing numbers of Alzheimer’s patients, and prospects of cures which may nothing more than hype, miss the fact that substantial advances have already been made in understanding the disease.
Older adults are actually less lonely than younger adults.
Maybe this is all relative, and it just shows that we need to be worried about both the younger and older generations. But a recent study by Cigna calculated “loneliness scores” for each of the standard generational groupings, and, according to their study, loneliness decreases, rather than increases, with age, with young adults ages 18 – 22 showing the greatest prevalence of lonliness and older adults the least.
So, yes, there are plenty of things to worry about, but that shouldn’t cause us to lose sight of the big picture of an overall positive quality of life in retirement.
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