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Study Uncovers Disconnects on Couples’ Retirement Expectations

An annual study that assesses agreement between married partners on communication and knowledge of finances uncovers several disconnects related to their retirement outlook.

Fidelity’s Couples & Money Study reveals that more than 4 in 10 couples disagree when asked about what age they plan to retire. The study notes that, for this question, there is more of a disconnection with Millennials with 51% disagreeing, compared to only 44% of Gen X and 33% of Baby Boomers.

In addition, more than half (54%) of couples differ on how much should be saved by the time they reach retirement to maintain their current lifestyle. Nearly half (49%) said they have “no idea” of how much should be saved — including 46% of Baby Boomers at or near retirement.

The study’s findings suggest an opportunity for advisors to assist couples with these conversations.

Couples that use an advisor were found to be more likely to agree on their vision of retirement, which includes both partners fully retiring from their careers and not going back to work, either by choice or necessity (40% versus 31%). In addition, the study found that more couples with an advisor agree that it is not difficult to start a conversation about a range of topics, compared to those that don’t use an advisor.

“Couples who plan together tell us they feel financially strong, regardless of their age or length of relationship,” said Alexandra Taussig, senior vice president of lifetime client engagement at Fidelity. “Openly discussing financial matters helps people feel more confident, more closely aligned and better equipped to take on the future. Working together, couples can help each other build financial confidence in their ability to manage, should the day come they have to do it on their own, Taussig adds.

The results showed a willingness to have these conversations, with two-thirds of couples indicating they already discuss some aspect of their finances at least monthly.

Less Stress or More Freedom?

The study also revealed that couples reportedly want less stress in their lives. When asked whether they would rather have their other half work in a job that stresses them out but pays a lot or have them be happy at work but earn less, 86% of couples prefer the stress-free path, even if it meant less cash flow.

At the same time, however, the study shows that they’d prefer to work more now so they can have more money to enjoy their retirement. When asked whether they would rather “work more now, but spend less time together to have more money in retirement” or “work less now, but possibly have less money to spend together in retirement,” most generations had similar responses, saying they would prefer to work more now (57% of Millennials and Gen Xers, and 53% of Baby Boomers).

And even though couples are trying to reduce stress, among their top worries are not having enough saved for retirement and paying for health care in retirement.

  • Having enough money saved for retirement: This concern tops the list for Gen Xers (born 1965-80) and Millennials (born 1981-1996) at 66% each, although Boomers seem less concerned at 44%.

  • Paying for health care in retirement: This is a concern for 63% of Gen Xers and 51% of Boomers, while Millennials were found to be slightly less concerned at 46% — which, of course, may be attributed to the fact that retirement for this group is still a ways away.

  • Debt and education: Perhaps not surprisingly, debt is an issue for many Americans, particularly Millennials, who express concerns about paying off both their general debt (36%) and student debt (24%).

Despite these concerns, a majority of couples are feeling good about their personal economic well-being, according to the survey. When asked, 47% of Americans surveyed describe their households’ financial health as very good, with an additional 22% saying it’s excellent. In contrast, only 26% identify their household financial health as fair, while 5% suggest a bleaker picture.

GfK’s Public Affairs & Corporate Communications division fielded the study on behalf of Fidelity in April 2018. Formerly known as the Couples Retirement Study, it analyzed retirement and financial expectations and preparedness among 1,662 couples (3,324 individuals). Respondents were required to be at least 22 years old, married or in a long-term committed relationship and living with their respective partner, and have either a minimum household income of $75,000 or at least $100,000 in investable assets.