Last Thursday we shared Robert Woods Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health. The takeaway of the survey shows that those close to retirement are strikingly optimistic about what their retirements will entail in terms of economic and social stability (which we discussed last week), as well as about their good health and longevity (to which we turn today). Retirement for those already well into it has lost much of its romantic sheen – a distinction between the two demographics stressed in the report., who has been presenting the findings of their in-depth survey concerning how recent retirees and soon-to-be retirees (those over 50) view retirement. The report was conducted by NPR, the
The audio report played on NPR at the end of last week can be heard here:
The tension is between expectations and common experiences. For example, according to the report, “only 13 percent of people over age 50 but not yet retired said they expect their health to be worse in retirement than it is currently. Yet 39 percent of retirees said their health is worse than it was in the five years before they retired.” A minuscule 1% of near-retirees believe they will exercise less in retirement than they do now, whereas some 40% of retirees admit to exercising less.
As the report shares, the differences between pre-retirement ambitions and post-retirement experiences are likely to grow even more disparate, as an ever-growing segment of obese Americans head to retirement. And the expense of their health-care needs will run up against the political trends to cut Medicare and revamp Social Security we hear discussed by presidential candidates and proposed by Congresspeople.
The news is not especially new: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) carried out studies in 2005-2007 showing the health issues that were already having an impact on those in their late 50s – those who still could exercise and enjoy insurance through their work. The NIH report “provides some initial data raising the question of whether today’s pre-retirees could reach retirement age in worse shape than their predecessors, with individuals potentially in poorer health than current retirees and possibly increasing health care costs for society.” The overall health prognosis for those in their late 40s is worse still.
The trend has been well documented, though we should appreciate the limitations of the NPR/RWJ/Harvard School survey. Ask yourself if you feel you exercise as much as you thought you would 10 years ago. Then ask someone 10 years your junior if he/she will be exercising to the same degree when she/is your age. The point is: the survey is asking for prognostications and remembrances of ambitions, not hard data as to how many miles anyone actually walked or is walking a week.
Nevertheless, preconceptions breed conceptions. Thus the stresses on retirees and on the systems and services to assist retirees are going to be heightened beyond expectations. Taking steps well before near-retirement to strengthen one’s health and financial accounts should be a priority.