Fewer Americans 'Very Satisfied' With Retirement

The levels of high satisfaction in retirement started to drop in 2004, a study finds.
Retirees are increasingly dissatisfied with their retirements, according to a new report from the Employee Benefit Research Institute titled “Trends in Retirement Satisfaction in the United States: Fewer Having a Great Time.” Data gathered from 1998 to 2012 through the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study (HRS) shows that fewer Americans say they are “very satisfied” with retirement, while a growing number of retirees say they are “not at all satisfied.”

“The drop in ‘very satisfied’ retirees is not limited to any particular economic group. This is clearly a more general trend,” says Sudipto Banerjee, EBRI research associate and author of the study. “What’s not yet clear is exactly why this is happening.”

EBRI’s study finds that the share of HRS survey respondents reporting “very satisfying” retirements dropped from 60.5% in 1998 to 48.6% in 2012. Conversely, the number of respondents reporting “moderately satisfying” and “not at all satisfying” retirements increased from 31.7% to 40.9% and from 7.9% to 10.5%, respectively. The levels of high satisfaction in retirement started to drop in 2004, according to HRS’s data.

In general, more respondents with pension annuities found retirement “very satisfying” both at the beginning and end of the 1998 to 2012 period, but their shifts away from the response of “very satisfying” and toward the response of “moderately satisfying” over the period have been very similar, EBRI’s report says. EBRI notes that both the highest- and lowest-asset quartiles show similar trends, indicating that their retirement satisfaction isn’t just based on their level of assets or whether they have pension income. There is no significant difference in retirement satisfaction levels between men and women. In contrast to the findings of earlier studies, this study shows that the share of people with “very satisfying” retirement drops with age.

Banerjee notes that net worth and health continue to be strongly correlated with retirement satisfaction: Higher net worth is associated with higher levels of satisfaction, and poorer health is associated with lower levels of satisfaction.

Full results of the study are available here.