Twenty-somethings have incredibly unrealistic expectations for retirement

In it for the long haul.
In it for the long haul.
Image: Reuters/Adnan Abidi
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Retirement is a rather abstract concept to a 20-year-old. In an international survey of twenty-somethings by insurer Aegon, only a quarter of young people polled said they always made sure to save for retirement.

But this is not just youthful indiscretion, the survey notes. High youth unemployment, the proliferation of unpaid internships and soaring costs of higher education make it hard for young people to save for retirement, even if they want to. And as fiscal shortfalls and longer lifespans push countries to cut state benefits for retirees, younger generations won’t be able to rely as much on governments to support them as their parents did.

Still, when Aegon asked a group of people aged 20-29 when they expected to retire, the results were surprising:

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On average, twenty-somethings expect to retire at age 63, roughly the same as older workers today. Young people in China and Japan are particularly bullish on when they will stop working, which Aegon interprets, diplomatically, as a sign that they “may benefit from having a better understanding of when government or workplace retirement benefits kick in.” A study of recent university graduates in the US reckons that they will not be able to retire comfortably until well into their seventies, 10 years later than what young Americans in Aegon’s survey expect. The ranks of pensioners in the workforce in the UK, Germany and elsewhere in Europe are already swelling.

It is striking to compare young people’s expected retirement age with actual observed retirement ages in recent years:

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Young people in Europe expect to retire later than the current crop of pensioners, while those in Asia and North America think they can hang it up earlier. A positive interpretation is that “retirement” is an increasingly fuzzy concept, with many older people taking up part-time jobs or dipping in and out of casual work by choice. More likely, and less happily, young people today are simply deluded about how much longer they need to work before they can enjoy their golden years of leisure—if those days ever arrive at all.