People around the world are facing the most extraordinary gift—the gift of time—filled with the promise of longer, fuller, and healthier lives. Life expectancy rates across the globe are on the rise and may increase even more with advances in medicine and technology. However, this gift is not an entitlement; it requires nurturing and care—and it must be financially viable to be achieved.
From an individual perspective, if we want to receive this gift, we must start by taking care of ourselves today so that we can enjoy the benefits of active living, healthy aging, and sustained vitality tomorrow. The scientific evidence is clear that we can live longer and healthier lives through proper diet and exercise, adequate rest, stress management, social connections, and a strong sense of purpose. We also must financially prepare ourselves so that we can afford housing, health care, and everyday expenses during our older years.
From a societal perspective, the gift of longevity is riddled with complexity, especially given the current decline in birth rates and population aging. The shift toward a proportionally smaller working-age population and a larger older population is disrupting the economics of government-sponsored social security systems around the world. In response, reforms to both government and employer pensions often assume that individuals should take on a greater level of responsibility in funding their own retirements. But are people heeding the message?
Our new study, A Retirement Wake-Up Call: The Aegon Retirement Readiness Survey 2016, assesses the present-date retirement expectations of 16,000 workers and retirees in 15 countries spanning Europe, the Americas, Asia, and Australia. The objective of the study is to gauge the adequacy of individuals’ retirement preparations, identify issues and risks, and provide a framework for developing recommendations for positive change.
Sixty-two percent of the study’s global survey respondents feel that individuals should take responsibility for funding their retirement, but only 38 percent say they are habitual savers who always make sure that they are saving. More vulnerable populations—such as women, younger workers, and lower-income workers—are even less likely to be habitual savers.
Furthermore, it is imminently clear that individuals cannot take on this additional financial burden alone; they need help from policy makers, industry experts, and employers. To achieve success, people need to earn an adequate income, have access to planning tools and investment advice, and be able to extend their working lives beyond the traditional retirement age.
Abandoning the long-standing notion that an individual should immediately retire at a certain age is becoming increasingly urgent, especially given that people are living longer and spending more years in retirement. Addressing the age at which people retire and how they can successfully transition into retirement is critical for rebalancing the financial equation for global retirement systems and individual households.
Many people are already envisioning a phased, flexible transition into retirement. Our global survey found that 58 percent of workers cite opportunities for a phased retirement as a very/extremely important employee benefit; however, only 28 percent indicate that it is offered to them by their current employers. In order to achieve these workers’ vision, there must be a widespread change in employment practices to accommodate them.
The topic of raising the retirement age begs for a spirited public debate—and the term “retirement age” itself has different meanings in different countries. Some countries, such as China, still have a mandatory retirement age at which people are no longer allowed to work. In others, like the United States, varying retirement ages trigger eligibility for different benefits, such as employer retirement benefits, Social Security, and Medicare. Under any circumstances, if the retirement age were raised, it is absolutely imperative that people have access to job training and education, employment opportunities, and the ability to earn an income in later life. But fostering this type of economic environment is easier said than done.
Our global survey asked retirees what surprised them most about retirement. Many responses included financial challenges related to living on limited pension benefits; others were surprised that they missed their work and co-workers.
A vision of inclusive aging, a world in which everyone can enjoy longer and healthier lives, cannot be achieved without a fundamental rethinking of retirement. People should have to opportunity work and earn income for as long as they desire, achieve long-term financial security, and retire comfortably on their own terms.
Catherine Collinson is president of Transamerica Institute, a nonprofit, private foundation dedicated to conducting research and educating the public about retirement, health coverage, and other relevant financial issues facing Americans today. She also serves as executive director of the Aegon Center for Longevity and Retirement. With two decades of retirement-industry experience, she has become a nationally recognized voice on retirement trends. In 2015, she joined the advisory board of the Milken Institute’s Center for the Future of Aging.
Aegon Center for Longevity and Retirement is a collaboration of experts assembled by Aegon with representation from Europe, the Americas, and Asia. Its mission is to conduct research, educate the public, and inform a global dialogue on trends, issues, and opportunities surrounding longevity, population aging, and retirement security. Its annual Aegon Retirement Readiness Survey is celebrating its fifth anniversary in 2015.
Transamerica Institute® is a nonprofit, private foundation dedicated to identifying, researching, and educating the public about retirement, health coverage, and other relevant financial issues facing Americans today. Transamerica Institute comprises two divisions: Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies® and Transamerica Center for Health Studies®. Transamerica Institute is funded by contributions from Transamerica Life Insurance Company and its affiliates and may receive funds from unaffiliated third parties.