Retirees Say Satisfying Retirement Is Possible

The vast majority of TIAA clients who are now retired say they feel satisfied with life after work, including practically everyone in the group of respondents who started saving early. 

A new study from TIAA reveals “nearly universal satisfaction in retirement,” at 93%, among its retired plan participant client base.

It is to be expected that those with access to workplace retirement accounts and long-term relationships with one or more financial services providers are likelier to feel well-prepared, and thus happier, in retirement. But TIAA says the 93% figure is impressive even in this context, especially given the changes that have taken place in the U.S. retirement system over the past 30 years, hoisting more responsibility for saving and investing onto the back of individuals.

“Satisfaction levels are virtually unchanged from when TIAA (then TIAA-CREF) conducted its landmark Voices of Experience study,” explains Roger Ferguson, Jr., president and CEO at TIAA. Like the original 1982 study, in which more than 1,500 TIAA annuitants answered questions about a variety of retirement issues, the 2016 follow-up survey of more than 1,500 retired plan participants measures the evolving attitudes retirees hold pertaining to life after work, “providing insights into all facets of retired life and the steps taken to prepare.”

“It’s remarkable that even with all the changes our country has experienced in the past 30 years—the increase in health care costs, the predominance of technology, the overwhelming amount of often-conflicting information—nearly all of the retirees we surveyed feel satisfied with their life in retirement,” Ferguson says. “It’s a vastly different world today than 1982, but our findings show that a happy, fulfilling retirement is still attainable.”

In fact, the “intensity of satisfaction” among TIAA retirees has actually increased, the firm says, with 65% of today’s retirees saying they are very satisfied with retirement, up from 51% in 1982.

NEXT: Earlier retirements 

TIAA’s 2016 survey results reflect another trend first identified in 1982, increasingly early retirements. In 1982, 39% of TIAA plan participants retired before age 65. Among the retirees surveyed in 2016, more than half (54%) retired before age 65, and many individuals are retiring ahead of their own schedule, as 71% of today’s retirees say they had expected to work until age 65 or older, but only 47% did.

Survey respondents also are more optimistic than pessimistic toward the prospect of retiring. Three-quarters of today’s retirees said they had looked forward to retirement. “This could be due in part to the fact that the majority are retiring on their own terms,” TIAA explains. In the 2016 data, 76% of those surveyed report that they retired by choice, an increase from 67% in 1982.

“What’s especially interesting about the 2016 Voices of Experience study is that it contradicts today’s common narrative about retirement and shows that many more retirees approached retirement with excitement and optimism than apprehension,” Ferguson explains. “The study reinforces what we have known for years—that our participants can benefit from outcome-oriented retirement plans that help them feel secure about their retirement lifestyle.”

In terms of what makes retirement fulfilling, the same truths appear to hold in 2016 as in the early 1980s: “Staying busy and engaged during retirement is key to these feelings of contentment.” Seventy-six percent of today’s retirees who are engaged in 10 or more activities report being very satisfied with their retirement, while only 52% of those who are engaged in only one or a handful of regular activities say the same.

“Seventy-four percent are using their time in retirement to connect with and spend time with family, and 64% socialize with friends on a regular basis,” the survey finds. “More than half engage in other hobbies like gardening or home improvement (56%) and/or travel (51%).”

Concluding the report, TIAA highlights once again that getting an early start to retirement planning can allow retirees to “choose their own retirement adventure” and enjoy their retirement lifestyle much more. “Among today’s retirees, those who began retirement planning before age 30 are more likely to retire before age 60. Not surprisingly, the majority (75%) of these early planners say they are very satisfied with their retirement.”

Full results of the TIAA Voices of Experience survey are reported here