September 27, 2011
Anna Christopher, NPR



NPR News Series "Life in Retirement," Airing September 27-29, Based on Poll From NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health

For decades, Americans have worked hard to retire at 65, and lead the good life in their golden years. But a new poll out today from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health finds that expectations of a happy retirement are drastically clashing with reality – with one in four retirees saying life is worse now than before they retired. Results also show that pre-retirees may be underestimating the financial, health and social challenges of retirement.

These findings provide the basis for NPR's "Life in Retirement," a six-part series exploring America's deep-rooted attitudes toward retirement, beginning today and airing all week on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. In the series, NPR correspondents from around the country take measure of the major shifts when it comes to health and long-term care, savings and Social Security, and how things came to be this way.

The poll, which surveyed both retirees and those over 50 who have not yet retired, shows stark differences between what pre-retirees think life will be like, and what retirees say is actually the case. It was conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Complete poll results are at, where all reports in the series will be available. Among the key findings:

· A large majority of retirees says life in retirement is the same (44%) or better (29%) than it was during the five years before they retired. Yet, one in four retirees think life is worse now than before they retired.

· A majority of both retirees and pre-retirees say their overall health in retirement is – or will be – better than their parents’ generation. And about 3 in 10 expect to live into their 90s or beyond.

· The poll shows only 14 percent of pre-retirees predict that life overall will be worse when they retire. Only 13% of pre-retirees thought their health would be worse, while 39% of retirees say it actually is.

· A third of retirees say they won't have the annual income they need to live comfortably in retirement. Health care expenses are a key factor: One in five has trouble paying for health care. Less than a quarter of pre-retirees (22%) predicted their financial situation would be worse.

· Pre-retirees expect to retire later than those who are already retired and some expect never to fully retire. A sizeable majority of pre-retirees (60%) expect to retire at age 65 or older, while only 26% of current retirees polled said they waited to retire at age 65 or older. 15% of pre-retirees say they never expect to fully retire.

· Nearly a quarter of retirees say their stress is greater now than when they were working. More than a third say they don’t travel as much and exercise less now than before retiring. Those numbers are significantly higher than what pre-retirees say they expect.

"Life in Retirement" is being reported by NPR's Science and National desks, with correspondents Jennifer Ludden, Greg Allen, Julie Rovner and Ted Robbins. For more information on the poll and to follow the series online, visit: