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Are Americans working themselves to death?

New research reveals almost 1 in 5 Americans don't believe they'll ever retire.

If you’re concerned about having enough to retire, you’re not alone. A new study by personal finance comparison website has found that 44.6 million American adults (18%) don’t believe they’ll ever stop working. Ohio topped the list for the highest proportion of people who don’t think they’ll ever retire (26%), followed by Missouri (25%), New Jersey (24%) and New York and North Carolina (both 21%).*

While a majority of Americans believed they would retire between 60 and 70, many feared they won’t ever be able to retire. Almost 1 in 3 (32%) believed they won’t be able to retire until they’re over 70, or not at all.

Women are more likely to believe they will never retire

When comparing men to women, more men believe they’d be able to retire earlier than women. We found that 50% of men think they’ll retire at 65 or younger, compared to 45% of women. Of those who don’t think they will ever retire, women were more likely (at 19%) compared to men (14%). This added financial pressure on women, of course, is compounded by the oft quoted fact that women working full-time earn 80% of what their male counterparts earned.

These findings align with a 2016 study by Financial Finesse, which found that only 16% of women under 30 know they’re on track to achieve their retirement income goals. It also found that women were more likely to experience some kind of earnings gap, where they take time off work for child-rearing or caring for elderly parents, resulting in less retirement savings.

Generation X has the bleakest outlook on retirement

One in five respondents (21%) age 35-54, the less vocal generation between Millennials and Baby Boomers, were most likely to believe they’ll never retire. Generation X were also the most likely to have regrets about their retirement saving habits with the vast majority (83%) of them wishing they had started contributing to their nest egg sooner.

Despite having much more time to save for retirement, more Millennials (17%) than Baby Boomers (13%) believed they’ll never retire. The oldest Millennials are only 34 in the survey, but the majority (70%) of them already wished they had started saving for retirement. Americans seem to understand the need to begin saving early, but regardless of generation, most are disappointed by their ability to do so.

Greater incomes do correlate with more confidence in retirement — but not as much you’d think

Not surprisingly, higher earners were more likely to believe that they’d retire and not work to death. However, the impact of increased income came with diminishing returns for respondents who make more than $75,000. Overall, most believe they’d retire between the ages of 61 and 65 regardless of income. For those who make $25,000 to $100,000, retiring between 66 and 70 was also a common response. While those who make less than $25,000 assuming if they don’t retire on time that they’ll never retire at all.

But it may not be as tough as you realize. We’ve calculated the amount of savings you need to put away each week, to be able to retire at 65 with $200 per week of income for 20 years. For instance, if you’re 40 years-old, putting away $160 each week will get you a nest egg of $208,000 – or $200 to spend each week for 20 years of retirement.

AgeYears to retireAmount needed to save each weekProportion of savings to $50,000 income


In which states are people expecting to retire sooner?

Our survey also found that those in Georgia have more people expecting to retire before they turn 50 than any other state, with 12% planning to stop work by 50 or earlier. It was followed by Florida (9%), and New Jersey, Arizona and Washington all with 7% believing they’ll wrap up work by the age of 50.

People from New York are the least likely to retire before they turn 50, with just 2% of respondents planning to do so. It was followed by Tennessee and Pennsylvania (both 4%).

Many Americans are living with regret, with three-quarters of respondents wishing they’d contributed to their retirement earlier (76%). Those from North Carolina and Missouri have the biggest regret to not contributing to their retirement sooner (both 84%), followed by New Jersey (83%).

The role of debt in retirement age

Debt also plays a big part when it comes to retirement plans. A 2016 survey from EBRI found that not many Americans feel confident about being able to afford a comfortable retirement, with nearly a third of retirees (33%) having a problem with debt. What’s more concerning, almost a quarter (23%) of Americans say they’ve taken a loan from their retirement savings plan.

Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York has shown that in 2015, the amount of student debt held by those older than 60 totaled $66.7 billion, a figure more than eight times the 2005 number. This could be from their own education or paying for a child’s, but either way, gives reason to those worried they’ll ever be able to afford to retire.

With the threat of debt hanging over one’s retirement plans, particularly from the rise of student loans, there are several ways to get help. For example, combining debts into one loan might cut down payments, allowing debt-holders to pay debts off at what could be a lower rate. For more information about consolidating debt, here is a comprehensive guide to help people make better decisions and get out of debt faster. Another option is a balance transfer credit card, where you can roll over your debts to a card offering as low as 0% interest for a certain period of time, such as 12 months.

Gender, age, income, and state residence influence how much of a segment is most likely to feel they will be working to death. As debt is also correlated with these factors, this makes sense as people have less to put towards the golden years when they still have loans from the college years.

These results are based on a study of 2,000 Americans commissioned by and conducted by global research provider Pureprofile in January 2017.

*Note: state based data was out of 15 states that had a sample size of more than 40 respondents. Other states were excluded from the state-based analysis.

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For all media inquiries, please contact:

Richard Laycock, Insights editor and senior content marketing manager


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