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Baby Boomers Are In For A Retirement Health Shock

So here’s the “news” from a retirement and health poll released this week by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Harvard School of Public Health and NPR:  We decline in old age, but a lot of us seem to be in denial about that.

Some 39% of current retirees say their health is worse now than it was five years before retirement, but only 13% of pre-retirees (meaning baby boomers over 50 who are still working) think their health will be worse in retirement.  (Pollsters questioned 1,254 adults over 50 in July and August. Full results here. )

Huh?  This makes absolutely no sense, particularly when you consider that many pre-retirees plan to retire later—or never stop working—owing to financial worries.  In the survey, only 25% of pre-retirees expect to retire before age 65 (compared to the 60% of current retirees who did) and 18% expect to work to 70 or beyond.  With retirement so delayed, why wouldn’t their health be worse when they finally hang it up?

In fact, as much as the retirement gurus like to lecture boomers about being financially unprepared for retirement, this survey suggests they are morerealistic about the money troubles they might face than the health challenges. For example, 22% of pre-retirees expect their finances to be worse in retirement than they are now—and that’s even after taking into account their plans to work longer and delay retirement.

As I’ve written here, boomers have gotten the message that they’ll need to work longer—and most will be okay if they are able to hang in there until 66 or beyond.  The risk is that some may not be  healthy enough to stick it out that long, or that employers may not want them.

Okay, ready for some good news on retirement?  Despite some  health and financial surprises, only 25% of current retirees say life is worse than before retirement and 29% rate it as better. Contributing to this improved quality of life, say retirees, is they have less stress (39%); a better relationship with family and spouse (35% and 34%, respectively); more time for hobbies, sports, volunteering and other activities they like (34%); and healthier eating habits (34%).

Janet Novack, Forbes Staff