What's scarier: Death or retirement? The existential question of our times has been answered

A recent study focuses on retirement fears, financial planning, alternative arrangements and other considerations about life after work.

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Building up an adequate nest egg for the retirement years is a lifelong undertaking for many professionals. Planning for the unknown comes with no shortage of challenges ranging from shifting Social Security minimums to long-term investment considerations. On Friday, online resume building website, Zety, published the results of a recent survey about retirement fears, financial planning and other aspects related to life after work.

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What's scarier? Death or retirement

A portion of the survey asked respondents about retirement fears. Specifically, respondents were asked if retirement is scarier than death. Overall, 40% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with this statement, the same number of people disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement and 20% felt neutral about the question. When asked if retirement was scarier than "sickness or poor health," 47% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed, about one-third (35%) disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement and 18% were neutral.

A portion of the report dives into the demographics of these retirement fears. Women were less likely (36%) than men (44%) to say that retirement is scarier than death. Interestingly, the fear of retirement appears to wane with age, according to the survey results. Among respondents under the age of 39, more than half (52%) said retirement is scarier than death, compared to one-third (33%) of respondents 39 or older.

"Initially, this generational split felt counterintuitive. Younger people are further from retirement, it doesn't loom as large as it does for older workers. But in reality it's actually a good fit with the broader fears for the future that younger people hold," said Jacques Buffett, career advice writer at Zety, in a blog post about the survey findings.

Men (51%) were more likely than women (42%) to fear retirement more than illness and these fears also appear to decrease with age. About half of respondents under 39 feared retirement more than poor health compared to 41% of the older respondents.

"Worldwide, it's well-documented that wages have stagnated in recent decades and that youth unemployment remains stubbornly high. So for younger people already facing economic uncertainty, it's no wonder that they have magnified fears about retirement," Buffett said.

Specific retirement fears: Funds, friends and activity

Virtually all respondents (87%) agreed that "having a lack of income" is the "most frightening" aspect of retirement. About three-quarters agreed that "losing employment-based healthcare benefits and medical insurance" is the most frightening retirement aspect, followed by not staying mentally active (71%) and not staying physically active (64%). Half of respondents agreed that "not having social and friendship networks associated with work" was the most frightening component of these post-work years.

"Obviously losing income and losing medical insurance are huge concerns. And they're closely connected. After all, we're more likely to need medical care as we age, and covering medical costs on a reduced income isn't exactly easy," Buffett said.

Social Security sentiment

When asked if respondents wanted to retire or continue to work once they reach the minimum retirement age, 40% said they wanted to retire, 45% said they want to continue to work and 15% said they would "have to keep working" although they did not want to. The vast majority of respondents (85%) said they believe the minimum retirement age will "continue to increase" and 68% said they trusted the government to "still deliver Social Security benefits by the time" they retire.

About seven in 10 respondents said their Social Security claim "will be enough to live on" and a similar number (67%) believe "the amount paid out by Social Security" will decrease by the time they retire. About one-third of respondents said they will be able to claim between $1,000 and $2,000 per month in Social Security benefits. One-third of respondents said they will claim between $2,000 to $3,000 per month and 17% said they will be able to claim between $500 and $1,000 monthly.

Aside from Social Security claims, 26% of respondents said they will receive between $2,000 to $3,000 monthly in other pensions and 20% said they will claim between $3,000 to $4,000. One in five respondents said they will receive between $500 to $1,000 and another 20% said they will receive between $1,000 to $2,000.

"Overall, 47% of our respondents had access to pensions other than Social Security. But that generational split came into play again. Only 39% of those aged younger than 39 had alternative arrangements compared to 51% of those aged 55 and older," Buffett said.

Staying "comfortable" in retirement

A portion of the survey focuses on "alternative ways of planning for retirement" and 58% of respondents said they have an employer-offered plan. About one-quarter of respondents said they have a labor union-offered plan or an insurance company-provided plan, respectively.

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During their retirement years, 30% of respondents said they would need between $2,000 to $3,000 per month to "maintain their standard of living" and 26% said they would need $3,000 to $4,000 per month to do so. Cash savings (71%) is the top reported method used to save for retirement, followed by the stock market (62%) and investing in real estate (38%).

Nearly one-quarter of respondents (22%) said they have used cryptocurrency investments for their retirement savings and 15% said they "will rely on financial support" from their family.

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