Trends in Retirement Satisfaction in the United States: Fewer Having a Great Time

April 2016, Vol. 37, No. 4
Paperback, 16 pp.
PDF, 1,174 kb
Employee Benefit Research Institute, 2016

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Executive Summary


  • The cross-sectional results in this study show that the share of respondents reporting “very satisfying” retirements dropped from 60.5 percent in 1998 to 48.6 percent in 2012. On the other hand, the share of respondents reporting “moderately satisfying” and “not at all satisfying” retirements increased from 31.7 percent to 40.9 percent and from 7.9 percent to 10.5 percent, respectively.

  • The longitudinal results from a fixed sample observed over the 15-year period from 1998 to 2012 show similar declines in the share of respondents reporting “very satisfying” retirements and similar increases in the share of respondents reporting “moderately satisfying” retirements. This is in contrast to some of the previous research, which shows that retirement satisfaction increases with age.

  • These trends are not limited to particular economic groups: Both the highest- and lowest-asset quartiles show similar trends. Also, people with and without pension income show similar trends in retirement satisfaction levels.

  • As might be expected, net worth and health status are strongly correlated with retirement satisfaction. Higher net worth is associated with higher levels of satisfaction, and poorer health is associated with lower levels of satisfaction.

  • There is no significant difference in retirement satisfaction levels between men and women.