Pandemic upends retirement plans for a third of Americans — for better or worse

·3 min read

The pandemic has upended the timeline to retirement for older Americans, new research reveals.

The abrupt lifestyle and economic changes fueled by Covid-19 have caused over one-third to accelerate or delay their target retirement age, according to a survey of over 2,300 adults from Northwestern Mutual conducted by The Harris Poll. Almost a quarter plan to retire later than previously expected, while 11% plan to retire earlier.

"The economic environment created by the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a lot of people to re-examine their financial lives," said Christian Mitchell, executive vice president and chief customer officer at Northwestern Mutual. "For some, the prospect of an early retirement appears more achievable, while others are adjusting for delays.”

Changes fueled by Covid-19 have caused over one-third to accelerate or delay their target retirement age, according to a survey of over 2,300 adults from Northwestern Mutual conducted by The Harris Poll. (Photo: Getty)
Changes fueled by Covid-19 have caused over one-third to accelerate or delay their target retirement age, according to a survey of over 2,300 adults from Northwestern Mutual conducted by The Harris Poll. (Photo: Getty)

Ultimately, it’s a tale of two workers who’ve had their perspectives and priorities altered by the pandemic.

“I don't think we as a country can go through what we've gone through without people thinking about their financial picture in a more pragmatic and rigorous way,” Mitchell said.

The priority reassessment and value shift has united some in the desire to retire early, no matter the potential financial risk. In the opposite camp, rattled Americans are trying to shore up their finances after job losses, medical bills, or worse. Both feelings are driven by the pandemic, Mitchell explained.

Among those who’ve delayed retirement, the chief reason is wanting more time to work and save closely followed by the rising costs of healthcare, the survey found. As for how long of a delay, most respondents said they’ll continue working for three to five years, and more than a third have pushed back their retirement by more than 10 years.

Those who have accelerated their retirement say they are doing so by three to five years citing reasons like the desire to spend more time with their loved ones. (Photo: Getty)
Those who have accelerated their retirement say they are doing so by three to five years citing reasons like the desire to spend more time with their loved ones. (Photo: Getty)

The pandemic has served as a brutal reminder of the axiom that life happens, Mitchell said. An elective retirement isn’t a bankable strategy and some might not be given the opportunity due to a job loss, health concern, or caring for dependents.

On the flip side, those who have accelerated their retirement say they are doing so by three to five years, citing reasons like the desire to spend more time with their loved ones, using their newly acquired free time to pursue hobbies, and a reprioritization of pleasure over work, according to the findings. However, 28% said the situation was beyond their control and their work status shifted due to a layoff or firing.

"It's clear that plans can unexpectedly change, that's why it's so important for people to get started early when it comes to retirement planning," said Mitchell. “[Retirement is] one of those facets of life [that is] very easy to defer and not to worry about, perhaps under the illusion [that] it's never gonna happen."

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Stephanie is a reporter for Yahoo Money. Follow her on Twitter @SJAsymkos.

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