How Baby Boomers are Retiring

Data on the first wave of boomer retirees.

One of the benefits of getting older is that your friends start to retire. My good friend Georgia left the State Department at the end of 2011 after more than 38 years of federal service. She worked for portion of time as a reemployed annuitant, but she’s been fully retired for six months. Georgia keeps busy doing all of the things that she didn’t have time for during her years of long hours of federal service -- taking power walks in the park (with me!), working out at the gym, getting a beach house, cleaning closets, and spending time with her 80-year-old mother and 102-year-old grandmother.

I asked what the best thing about retirement is so far and she said it’s not having to drink her coffee in a cup with a lid. At first I didn’t know what she meant. Then I realized she always took her coffee to go as she rushed out the door in the morning.

Georgia is one of many people in government -- and across the American economy -- who have made the decision to move into retirement. And now we’re beginning to get more information about exactly how baby boomers in particular are faring in their golden years. The MetLife Mature Market Institute conducts numerous studies on the large population of boomers who are retiring. Its latest report, “The Oldest Boomers: Healthy, Retiring Rapidly and Collecting Social Security,” released in May, takes a close look at the first wave of boomer retirees -- those born in 1946. It provides a wealth of statistical data about this bellwether group.

Let’s look at some of the numbers.

Work and Retirement

  • 52 percent of the earliest boomers are fully retired, up from 19 percent in 2007 and 45 percent in 2011.
  • 21 percent are working full-time. They plan to retire on average at age 71.2, up from 66.3 in 2007 and 68.6 in 2011.
  • 30 percent expect to retire later than they had planned. Of this group, 27 percent say they need their salary, while 32 percent report that they enjoy working.
  • 12 percent are retired but working part-time or seasonally.
  • 4 percent are self-employed.
  • Only 1 percent are looking for work.
  • Of those who are retired, 66 percent say they like it a lot, and 27 percent are somewhat happy with it.
  • The average age of retirement was 59.5.
  • When asked why they left the workforce, nearly four in 10 cited the fact that they just wanted to retire as the primary reason. Another 17 percent reported health issues as the main incentive. Significantly more respondents cited being laid off or unable to find work as the basis for their retirement in 2012 (10 percent) than in 2011 (6 percent).
  • 47 percent said they retired later than expected due to a variety of financial reasons.

Income and Housing

  • 86 percent are collecting Social Security benefits, and 43 percent collected them earlier than they had planned.
  • 20 percent are confident and 46 percent are somewhat confident in Social Security’s ability to provide them with adequate lifetime benefits.
  • A little over half have reached or are on track to meet their retirement savings goals, an increase from 38 percent who said so in 2008.
  • 34 percent said they are somewhat or significantly behind in their savings.
  • 58 percent reported lower income than when they were working, but only 20 percent of this group reported that their standard of living has decreased, and 18 percent reported an increase in standard of living.
  • 16 percent said their income has increased a little or a lot in retirement. Of that group, 47 percent cited lower expenses in retirement as the reason.
  • 40 percent have paid off their mortgages, while 8 percent are upside down on their mortgages.

Family, Health and Aging

  • 83 percent of the oldest boomers are empty nesters, while 17 percent still have kids living at home.
  • Those who are grandparents have an average of 4.8 grandchildren -- up from 2.6 in 2008.
  • 79 percent have neither parent still living.
  • 31 percent reported concerns about providing for their own or spouse’s long-term care needs.
  • 16 percent see themselves as being sharpest mentally now, in their 60s, but the largest group (30 percent) believes they were sharpest in their 40s.
  • 82 percent plan to “age in place” and not move in the future.
  • More than 10 percent are caring for their aging parents or other older relatives who are still living.
  • More than 50 percent believe their generation is leaving a positive legacy for future generations.

Test Yourself

Do you know much money you’ll need to retire comfortably? Try taking the eye-opening MetLife Retirement Income Quiz. Sadly, I only got 11 out of 14 correct.