Most of us spend decades saving for retirement. But retirement may not turn out to be the satisfying experience we are hoping it will be. A recent study found that fewer seniors are enjoying their retirement years.
The proportion of older Americans who say they are having a very satisfying retirement has dropped by 11.9 percentage points from 60.5 percent in 1998 to just under half (48.6 percent) in 2012, according to a recent Employee Benefit Research Institute analysis of University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study data. Many seniors (40.9 percent) continue to find their retirement "moderately satisfying". But 10.5 percent of older people report that retirement is "not at all satisfying", up from 7.9 percent in 1998.
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The survey didn't directly ask respondents why their satisfaction with retirement is declining, but the researchers did notice some clues in the survey data. Here's what might be leading to a decrease in retirement satisfaction:
Lack of resources. The decrease in retirement happiness is partially due to financial concerns. Among retirees in the bottom quarter of the asset distribution, 21.6 percent are not satisfied with retirement, up from 17 percent in 1998. Unsurprisingly, retirees with the highest net worth are much more likely to be enjoying retirement. "Respondents with more assets report higher levels of very satisfying retirements," EBRI found. However, even the wealthiest group was not immune to declines in retirement happiness. While 66.7 percent of retirees in the top quarter of the asset distribution are very satisfied with their retirement, that's down from 75.6 percent in 1998.
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No pension benefits. The majority of people who have traditional pension payments coming in are very satisfied with their retirement (57.5 percent), but this proportion is down from 67.8 percent in 1998. Retirees without a traditional pension are less likely to be enjoying retirement. Among people who don't have a pension, 46.5 percent say they are very satisfied with their retirement, down from 53.9 percent in 1998. Many pensionless seniors (41.6 percent) now say they are only moderately satisfied with their retirement.
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Health declines. Good health is an essential component of an enjoyable retirement. The majority of people who are enjoying good health (79.8 percent) say they are having a very satisfying retirement, compared to 25.6 percent of retirees reporting poor health. "Retirement satisfaction drops as health worsens," according to the EBRI report. Many people with poor health (30.5 percent) report that retirement is not at all satisfying.
No differences between men and women. Both men and women appear to have similar levels of retirement happiness. "There are not any meaningful differences in retirement satisfaction levels between men and women," according to the report. Just over half of women (53.8 percent) and men (55.1 percent) claim to be having a very satisfying retirement.
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Getting older. Retirement happiness tends to increase with age. The proportion of people enjoying a very satisfying retirement grows from 36.5 percent among people ages 50 to 59 to 59.2 percent at age 90 or older. "The sample at older ages is skewed toward more healthy and wealthy respondents who also tend to be more satisfied," according to the EBRI study. "The healthy and wealthy tend to live longer."
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Emily Brandon is the author of "Pensionless: The 10-Step Solution for a Stress-Free Retirement."