As Long As They’re Healthy…

December 6, 2011 ( - The Hartford and MIT AgeLab found that among pre-retirees and retirees, the vast majority would rather live as long as they’re healthy, versus living as long as their money lasts.

Eighty-percent of pre-retirees in the Hartford/MIT AgeLab survey said they would prefer to live as long as they’re healthy, while only 3% said they want to live as long as they have money.  Similar percentages were true for the retiree segment of the survey.   

The survey found an over-arching optimism among both these age groups, despite economic uncertainty. When asked which older celebrity they would like to emulate the most in retirement, the most popular answer was Betty White, on account of her ability to laugh at herself. The second most common answer was Jimmy Carter, on account of his philanthropic work.  Jack Welch and George Foreman were the least common responses, with respondents saying they “can’t seem to let go of work.” Helen Mirren and Steve Tyler were the other options.   

The October 2011 Age of Opportunity study, which measured the opinions and concerns of Americans both in and approaching retirement, found that most retirees are pleased with their life, and both pre-retirees and retirees have a positive attitude about retirement overall: 

  • Retirees are more likely to say “I am happier now that I am retired” (77%) than those who have yet to retire are to say “I will be happier after I retire” (64%). 
  • Other than wishing they could retire earlier (35%of pre-retirees), or could have retired earlier (42% of retirees), many recent and soon-to-be retirees see few negatives about retiring. 
  • Twenty-six percent of those nearing retirement said they feel “hopeful” about retirement, while 27% of those who have recently retired say they feel “peaceful.” 
  • Among those who did find something less than positive about the next phase of their lives, dealing with medical or health issues was cited most often (21% for both pre-retirees and retirees). 
  • Among retirees, the more affluent are twice as likely as others to cite giving up a fulfilling career as a negative to retirement. 


The study, conducted by GfK Roper for The Hartford and the MIT AgeLab, surveyed people who are within 10 years of retiring versus those who have retired within the last 10 years, and attempted to answer the question, “Does the reality of retirement match expectations?”

Most pre-retirees and retirees cite health or medical issues as the thing they worry most about impacting their retirement.   

Other health-related findings include: 

  • If they could change one aspect of retirement, retirees say they would have saved more money or been better prepared financially (32%), but they also wish they’d paid more attention to the importance of health issues (13%). 
  • Retirement-age Americans see themselves living a very long time. Many expect to make it into their 90s (29% of pre-retirees, 35% of retirees). 
  • Although many retirees (48%) and most pre-retirees (63%) say their spouse is the person most likely to care for them if they become chronically ill, few (11% of pre-retirees and 10% of retirees) say their top concern is caring for a spouse or family member impacting their retirement. 


When it comes to planning, both pre-retirees and retirees said a milestone birthday (19% of pre-retirees, 14% of retirees) or the realization that they are within 10 years of retiring (15% of pre-retirees, 11% of retirees) were the two most common triggers for serious financial planning. It also seems that early planning plays off: more affluent retirees – those with $250,000 or more of investable assets – are twice as likely to say they began serious financial planning when they got their first job. 

The study also found that retirees and pre-retirees share values of what makes for a comfortable lifestyle. Both groups say they would be willing to give up some “extras” to help make ends meet in retirement, including moving to a more modest home (14% of retirees and 21% of pre-retirees), driving a less-expensive car (15% and 18%, respectively), or shopping less (17% for both). They were less willing to give up dining out, entertainment and recreational pursuits. Those who are more affluent are even more likely to “trade down” a home or car to preserve other aspects of their lifestyle.  

Americans’ independent-mindedness also showed through as the survey found that retirees say they follow their own path, and pre-retirees hope to do the same. When asked what song they’d use to describe the retirement they have, or the one they hope to have, both groups most often chose (I Did It) “My Way,” by Frank Sinatra.   

For more information about The Hartford/MIT AgeLab Age of Opportunity study, visit