A Dozen Big Changes in Perceptions About Retirement

Clearer picture of recession’s impact emerges, including big changes in retirement expectations.

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Middle-income baby boomers have spent the past few years battening down the hatches for futures they expect will be uncertain but turbulent. In the process, their definitions of what retirement looks like have changed dramatically. A new poll sponsored by Bankers Life and Casualty Co. provides a detailed look at the changing financial profile of people born between 1946 and 1964, with household incomes ranging from $25,000 to $75,000 a year.

[See 10 Essential Sources of Retirement Income.]

It's no secret that the middle class has been under enormous financial stress. The value of this study, "Middle-Income Boomers, Financial Security and the New Retirement," is in the detailed portrait it provides of specific boomer actions and attitudes. See how your own outlook compares with its findings.

Before the recession and market declines, Americans seemed to be on a debt-financed spending spree, often using their home equity as a piggy bank. No more. Since the downturn, middle-income boomers have sharply curtailed discretionary spending on most leisure-time items. Here are the percentages of respondents saying they are now spending less on:

Going out to restaurants: 63 percent

Vacations: 62 percent

Movies: 62 percent

Clothes and shoes: 60 percent

Gifts for birthdays and holidays: 58 percent

Electronics and tech gadgets: 56 percent

Hobbies: 55 percent

Cable television: 26 percent

Nearly 3 of every 4 boomers say they've been forced to rethink their retirement date. Of these, nearly 80 percent (that's more than half of all middle-income boomers) said they would delay retirement—by an average of five years—and 14 percent said they feel they can never retire. Retirement used to be linked with a person's age. "Today, more than ever, a new number has emerged in its place—the amount of one's personal savings," the study said. "On the new road to retirement, Americans can now retire only when they feel they can afford to do so."

[See Consumers Map Best Retirement Planning Moves.]

The survey found that middle-income boomers had increased their contributions in employer retirement programs but still felt they would come up short in having enough money to retire. "Uncovered healthcare expenses (80 percent), inflation (79 percent) and living longer than their money lasts (71 percent) are the top three financial concerns that middle-income boomers have about retirement."

Asked what they expected their retirements to be like, boomers projected huge differences between their experiences and their perceptions of how previous generations had fared in retirement. In financial terms, at least, the Silent Generation had nothing to squawk about because it retired with pensions and other sources of guaranteed income.

Here is how middle-income boomers feel about 15 expectations about retired life, including how they think their own outlooks differ from earlier generations of retirees. In a dozen instances, there were big differences between the two sets of perceptions.

[See 6 Ways to Plan for Your Later Years.]

AttributeMy RetirementPrevious Generations% ChangeKeeping up with technology77%8%+69Working78%16%+62Staying physically fit/healthy living81%27%+54Learning a new skill60%21%+39Reinventing oneself54%18%+36Going back to school35%19%+16Starting or furthering one’s business37%22%+15Volunteering58%58%0Spending time with family and friends68%70%-2Travel61%67%-6Pursuing traditional retirement hobbies48%74%-26Being at home, watching TV, relaxing48%75%-27Moving to a retirement community24%62%-38Slowing down35%77%-42Being taken care of by family15%69%-54 

Twitter: @PhilMoeller

Corrected 5/23/11: A previous version of this story omitted several paragraphs and misidentified the chart. The story and chart have been updated.