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2016 Retirement Confidence Survey: A Secondary Analysis of Findings from Respondents Age 50+



This study presents the findings of a secondary analysis of the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s 2016 Retirement Confidence Survey, with a special focus on respondents age 50 and older. The goal of this study is to provide a better understanding of the retirement expectations, preparations, experiences and needs of Americans 50 years of age and older.

Key findings include:

Retirement Preparations and Estimations

  • Fewer than half (45%) of 50+ workers have tried to calculate how much they will need to live comfortably in retirement; among these workers, the median amount calculated ranges between $250,000 and $499,999.

Saving for Retirement

  • Although the majority of 50+ workers and retirees have personally saved for retirement, slightly more than a third of workers (36%) and about half of retirees (49%) have less than $25,000 in savings and investments. Saving for retirement—as well as the amount saved—tends to increase as household income increases.

Retirement Experiences

  • Nearly three in five (59%) 50+ retirees say their experiences in retirement, with respect to their finances, have not matched their expectations. About one in five (21%) found their expenses to be lower than expected; while about two in five (38%) have found their expenses to be higher than expected.

  • Fifty-plus retirees who retired earlier than planned (46%) were more likely than those who retired when planned or later than planned (33%) to say their finances in retirement are higher than expected.

  • Among 50+ retirees who retired earlier than planned, more than half (55%) cited having a health problem or disability as a reason for early retirement.


  • Nearly half of workers and a third of retirees age 50 and older report having a problem with debt; but just 1 in nine 50+ workers and retirees describe their level of debt as a major problem. 

  • More than one in four 50+ workers (27%) with a retirement savings plan have taken a loan from the plan.

Retirement Confidence

  • Eight in 10 50+ workers (80%) and retirees (85%) feel at least somewhat confident they will have enough money to take care of their basic expenses during retirement; but they are less confident that they will have enough money to live comfortably (65% and 74%, respectively) and/or pay for their medical expenses (62%, 78%) during retirement.

  • Just over half (52%) of 50+ workers and more than a third (36%) of 50+ retirees are not confident they will have enough money to pay for long-term care, if they need it during retirement.

Sources of Income in Retirement

  • Social Security is the most-often cited major source of retirement income for both 50+ workers (48%) and 50+ retirees (64%). This is followed by employer-sponsored savings plans (41%) among workers and employer-provided pension or cash balance plans (30%) among retirees.


  • The findings from this study suggest that Americans age 50 and older may not have a realistic view of their financial future in retirement and, as a result, are not adequately preparing for it.

  • The findings further suggest that adults age 50 and older could benefit from using a financial calculator to help them better estimate their financial needs in retirement. Additionally, given the relationship seen between self-reported overall health and financial outcomes, adults of all ages should plan for the possibility of declining health and its potential impact on their retirement finances.

The 2016 Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS) was conducted in January – early February, 2016 by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), in Association with Matthew Greenwald, Inc. This report focuses on the survey responses of 902 Americans age 50+ (403 workers; 499 retirees). Data are weighted by age, sex, and education. For more information contact Alicia Williams at


Suggested Citation:

Williams, Alicia R., and Eowna Young Harrison. 2016 Retirement Confidence Survey: A Secondary Analysis of Findings from Respondents Age 50+. Washington, DC: AARP Research, March 2017.

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