Fielded since 2018, the Global Retirement Reality Report (GR3) provides insight into how world events, government policy, economic trends, and societal attitudes impact retirement plan participants’ views on preparing for and living in retirement.
In 2023, survey respondents gained some distance from the turmoil of COVID-19 and expressed more confidence in their ability to retire than they did during the pandemic. More people are setting aside money for retirement and working to ensure they have a stable source of income in retirement—a primary goal for the overwhelming majority of respondents. And, despite the fact that many are still exercising a do-it-myself attitude towards saving for retirement, they are seeking information from trusted sources to educate themselves about how to accomplish their retirement goals.
The report highlights four key global insights about the confidence of workers in their ability to retire; their most-critical retirement planning goal; what retirement means to them; and their top concerns as they look toward retirement. Employers, financial advisors and policymakers can learn a great deal by listening to the collective voice of workers represented in this study.
Figure 1: More people are confident about their retirement prospects as the pandemic recedes
Tens of millions of people worldwide re-evaluated their career choices, lost or resigned their jobs during the pandemic, as COVID-19 disrupted established patterns of daily life and ways of working. Immediate concerns, like how to safely buy groceries or help children with remote learning, became the primary focus for many people.
With the public health crisis receding, though, far more workers are staying put and refocusing on long-term goals. This increased stability may be contributing to an overall increase in confidence about individuals’ retirement prospects. The proportion of respondents saying they are optimistic about retirement is greater overall in 2023 than in 2020, with the United States seeing the largest increase (6 percentage points) in confidence during that period.
Across global respondents, the typical target age for retirement is roughly 65 and this year’s survey reports a general increase in the proportion of people who are confident they will be able to retire when they expect. In fact, the share of workers who anticipate retiring on time increased in every country between 2020 and 2023 except Ireland, where it remained flat.
The number of respondents saying they are on track for retirement remained largely unchanged between 2022 and 2023, suggesting that individuals are moving beyond the worries and uncertainties driven by the pandemic. About six in 10 of those surveyed expect to fully retire someday, with respondents in Ireland the most likely to feel confident of their eventual retirement (63%). In addition, about a quarter of respondents said they expect to partially retire.
Similarly, individuals’ retirement savings habits have seemed to stabilize in recent years after declining during the pandemic. In 2020, considerably fewer respondents said they were increasing retirement savings rates than in 2022 and 2023. The proportion of respondents saving more nearly tripled in the United States and United Kingdom, and nearly doubled in Ireland and Australia.
Also, far fewer people had slowed or stopped their savings in the previous six months of 2023 and 2022, compared to 2020. The change was particularly pronounced in Ireland, where just 7% had cut back or eliminated retirement savings compared to 22% in 2020, and Australia where those saving less fell to 6% of respondents from 21% three years earlier.
Building a nest egg involves decades of setting aside money month after month, making investment decisions, and participating in government and employer-sponsored retirement plans. As a result, it’s not surprising that many respondents aren’t worried about how they will withdraw those funds in retirement. The possibility of burning through savings quickly in retirement—all too often a reality—can seem remote when individuals are still in their working years.
Roughly one in three respondents (34%) said they are comfortable figuring out how best to sustainably withdraw their savings during retirement. They are not looking for someone else to draw down those funds on their behalf. Respondents in Australia (40%) and the United States (37%) most frequently express a desire to manage withdrawals independently.
Self-reliance came out even more strongly when people were asked who is most responsible for making sure their retirement is secure. Two in three respondents (66%) said they personally bear the greatest responsibility for making sure they have adequate income in retirement rather than their employer or government. Fewer than one in 10 people say that either of those entities bear primary responsibility.
“I am responsible for making sure I have adequate income now while I work. Why should that change when I stop working?” — American man, age 18-34, income range $60,000-$99,999.
Even so, many are concerned about whether they will be able to manage their planning and spending during retirement. Roughly one in three respondents (31%) globally worry about not having the ability to generate consistent income throughout retirement, and that expenses such as food, utilities, rent, and taxes will outstrip the money coming in.
Unexpected expenses related to areas such as medical care and housing present an even bigger concern for many respondents. Four in 10 Irish respondents cited this as their top concern, the highest among all countries surveyed. Concern about the threat of unplanned expenses is growing fastest in United States (up 4 percentage points) and Australia (up 6 percentage points) during the past year.
The complexity of retirement savings and pension plans are among the top concerns impacting respondents’ confidence that they will be ready to retire when they plan to do so. Roughly one in four respondents cited the complicated tangle of employer, government and personal retirement funds as something that makes them less confident in their ability to retire on time.
“There is no education on pensions and retirement and how they work. It’s completely over complicated and difficult to understand” — Irish woman, age 35-44, income range 70,000€+.
Respondents also are eager for advice, guidance and education. Globally, 81% of respondents believe in the value of one-on-one financial advice from trusted professionals. And nearly 80% of respondents globally agree that education—such as web-based modeling tools that help determine how to translate retirement savings into lifetime income—would be a helpful retirement resource.
Having a steady stream of income provides people with a sense of financial security and wellbeing in both working and retirement years. Roughly 75% of those surveyed want retirement plans that offer stable income during part or all of their retirement. Only one in four respondents (25%) prefer flexible access to retirement funds with the possibility that their savings may run out before they die.
Figure 4: From the following options below around how you could access your retirement savings, which would you choose? Please pick one.
After a lifetime of working, many individuals want their income in retirement delivered with the familiar consistency of a paycheck. About half of respondents say that retirement income means having a steady stream of income that starts the day they retire. This sentiment is particularly strong in Ireland, where 57% of respondents say that a paycheck-like flow of money is synonymous with retirement income.
However, many respondents acknowledge wanting help figuring out how to sustainably draw down their retirement savings. While roughly one third (34%) said they’re comfortable figuring out a drawdown strategy by themselves, more than half of respondents (54%) preferred to:
Most respondents would like their employers to provide products that deliver regular, guaranteed income. Across the globe, eight in 10 respondents called it a helpful retirement resource. Roughly seven in 10 respondents said they would prefer their employer to provide guaranteed-income options, rather than providing all their funds in a lump sum.
This year’s responses saw an increase in favorable sentiment for annuities compared to just one year ago. The view that they provide safety and stability and are an essential part of providing an income in retirement grew while significantly fewer respondents said they believe that annuities have a bad reputation or represent poor value for money.
Figure 5: Dependable lifetime income is a critical retirement planning goal
In every country surveyed, a single concern stands above the rest when people consider whether they will be able to retire: rising prices. Roughly three quarters of respondents cited inflation and the cost-of-living crisis as a top concern as they look toward retirement. People see for themselves how much prices have increased for groceries, gas, rent and other necessities in recent years.
“During this financial inflation, the rising costs have made me wonder if what I make and plan on making will be enough for my future.” — Australian man, age 18-34, income range $50,000-$99,000
Other sources of concern vary depending on the government policies and economic conditions of individual countries. Medical expenses, for example, are a major worry in most countries, with people understanding that health problems increase with age. A third of the respondents in Ireland, Australia and Canada called out medical expenses, with nearly half (47%) of respondents in the United States citing it. However, the situation is far different in the United Kingdom (16%), where national health care reduces the public’s fear of medical expenses.
Figure 6: What factors most negatively affect your confidence that you will be ready to retire when you plan to? Please pick top three
The political climate, meanwhile, is a top worry for respondents from the United Kingdom and the United States, where political gridlock and the polarization of public opinion are making it difficult for the government bodies to legislate effectively. Four in 10 respondents in those countries cited the political climate as a major concern in whether they will be able to retire.
Housing expenses are a significant worry in Ireland, Australia and Canada, with a third or more of respondents in each country saying that mortgage debt and rent are negatively impacting their views on retirement. Respondents from Canada and the U.K. are most likely to say that not having spare funds to save for retirement is a top worry.
Across the world, other potential concerns are far less worrisome to respondents. Relatively few of those taking the survey said their retirement is negatively impacted by short-term debt, their employment status, or financial dependency of family members.
This year’s survey provides three actionable insights that employers, financial advisors and providers can use to refocus employees on retirement preparedness now that the global health crisis has receded: