Baby Boomers are Reluctant to Retire

The Gallup organization has been polling baby boomers on a number of different topics and periodically releasing the results and drawing conclusions. A recent conclusion is this: When it comes to our retirement age, baby boomers are acting in accordance with our “live to work” reputation. I think that is kind of sad, don’t you?

According to Gallup, the retirement age in the U.S. has risen from 57 to 61 over the past two decades. Both of those numbers are curious to me. I cannot imagine being in a total non-working mode at either of those ages, regardless of finances. I can honestly say that I am not in a “live to work” mode but I still feel good about my work (most of it). This includes the work itself and the people I work with.

Apparently I’m not alone in my feelings about retiring at age 57 or 61. The Gallup poll numbers show that 49% of boomers who are still working say they don’t expect to retire until they are at least 66. Ten percent believe they will never retire.

The age 66 number makes sense because that is the full retirement age for Social Security purposes. I suspect that the “never retire” group is having trouble financially.

Indeed, the Gallup poll bears this out. There is a direct correlation between boomers’ current financial condition and anticipated retirement age.

Boomers were asked to rate the following statement on a 1-5 scale: “You have enough money to do everything you want to do.”

These same baby boomers were then asked to state their expected retirement age.

Those who rated the question with a 1 (“strongly disagree”) expected to retire at age 73. Those boomers who answered with a 5 (“strongly agree”), expect to retire at 66.

This raises the question of why those who “strongly agree” that they have enough money are nevertheless planning on staying in the workforce until age 66. What is the source of this reluctance to retire?

I think it still involves financial security.

When the typical retirement age two decades ago was 57, many retirees were on significant corporate pension plans. They looked forward to a steady pension income in retirement along with retiree healthcare. ¬†For most, those plans are long gone along with many of the businesses that offered them. (Look what happened to the “old” GM and Ford.)

Even with a large retirement nest egg, pension-less baby boomers may still be concerned about outliving their money. A partial cure for that fear is hope for a larger Social Security check from the government. That means waiting to claim your benefits. Boomers who have their health and a decent job are just waiting, at least for their full retirement age. At that point, even if they continue to work, their Social Security benefits won’t decline.

Healthcare is also part of the financial security concern. Some of that may change, now that the Affordable Care Act makes it easier for boomers who are not yet 65 to get health insurance. This development may slow or reverse the boomer reluctance to retire mentality.

If you want to read more about how your fellow boomers responded to this Gallup poll, here is the report.


  1. Mike says

    There may also be some fibbing going on in response to the poll as well. Even in an anonymous poll some people will answer 4 or 5 to the “Do you have enough money…” question even when they know they don’t. They hope to have enough money by 66 so feel ok answering 4 or 5 today.

    I also think that in addition to the pension issue you raise, there may also be a longevity issue. My father is turning 82 next week and while he is financially very secure he told me 2 years ago that he never thought he would live as long as he has. This may result in delaying retirement for some people because they feel they will have plenty of time to do the things they want to even if they wait until age 66 to retire. This is especially true if the person also has concerns about having enough money to begin with.

  2. Charles says

    For me, it’s money. I’d retire now (at 58) if I could afford it, but as it is I have serious doubt if I’ll ever be able to afford it.

    When I joined the workforce, it was expected that we would find some job with a retirement plan, we’d work for 30 or 40 years, and then get a retirement to live out our old age. When IRAs and 401Ks started being talked about, those of us working minimum wage jobs viewed those as tax shelters for those with a lot more money than we had. After all, we didn’t need them, we’d find a company that valued us and our work ethic and get that retirement plan.

    Somewhere along the way, the game changed. Employees became disposable. Retirement plans went away (after all, no one was kept at the company long enough to get the retirement anyway.) Those 401Ks that we had blown off became our future.

    One we started investing in the 401K, we might have built it up, but for many of us that didn’t get a “professional” career, and many that DID find a professional career, ended up relying on the 401K to support ourselves when we got laid off.

    As a result, at 58 years old I have about $50K in my 401K, and part of that is tied up in a loan. My Social Security (and I am one of those that think it will survive ) may cover my medical costs. My home won’t be paid for by then, so my options, barring a winning lottery ticket, are to move to a cardboard box or keep working.

    BTW- I am now in what many would consider a “professional” position as a pharmaceutical chemist. Unfortunately, my “professional” job doesn’t pay what many labor jobs do (and I am paid better that average wages for a chemist in the Midwest) so even if I could figure out a way to put 100% of my income into a 401K, I’d be pushing 70 before I had what most sites say is enough for a “comfortable” retirement.

    So I’d say that for many of those planning on a delayed or no retirement are not planning it because of a work ethic. We are planning it for survival.

  3. Sue Montero says

    It’s certainly sad – and its pathetic too- not because so many boomers want to keep working but that in our so called great country so many of us MUST continue to work or we don’t eat or can’t cover basic expenses. And the GOP wants to cut SS and food stamps? When is our ‘great nation’ going ot step up and take care of its people?

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