The New Zealand Seniors Series: The Retirement Living Report

The New Zealand Seniors Series: The Retirement Living Report Surveying over 1,000 Kiwis over 50 we look at what's most important to our senior community. Exploring perceptions on retirement, the future of care and priorities.

The past two years have brought about more disruption and flux than many of us have experienced in our lifetimes – from the closure of international borders, to the turbulence of the economy, and the enforcement of strict lockdowns.

For many of us, the pandemic has encouraged us to pause and re-evaluate what matters most, giving us a humbling opportunity to reconnect with our values – whether it be, family, health, travel, or our careers. The pandemic has also brought flexibility to many areas of our lives, opening the door to new possibilities and a wider range of options that better balance our priorities. 

The Retirement Report 2022 forms part of the New Zealand Seniors Series, exploring the subject matters that are important to our senior community. Surveying over 1,000 Kiwis over 50, this chapter explores our perceptions on retirement and the future of care, along with our main concerns and priorities.

Image of retirement journey infographic

Recent events have dramatically shifted our lifestyles and challenged us to reflect on what the future holds. Perhaps one of the biggest ways the pandemic has shaken things up has been in the domain of our working lives.

With flexibility becoming a defining characteristic of post-pandemic workplaces, our perceptions of retirement have shifted significantly. In this vein, 3 in 5 (56%) pre-retirees surveyed see retirement as something that will give them greater control over how they choose to spend their time. Similarly, 3 in 5 (60%) pre-retirees view retirement as an opportunity to do the things they have been meaning to get around to and 1 in 2 (50%) consider it as the beginning of new adventures.

Interestingly, the notion of greater flexibility at work becoming the norm over the past two years means that many pre-retirees now see retirement as a gradual transition rather than a standalone event. In fact, 3 in 5 (62%) Kiwi pre-retirees find the idea of transitioning into retirement by gradually reducing work commitments very or extremely appealing, as opposed to setting a hard date for retirement.

When it comes to preparing for what their retirement journey might look like, most pre-retirees haven’t set much in stone, with only half (51%) feeling on track to retire at their preferred age. For 1 in 3 (38%), the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has derailed their retirement plans or left them unsure about how they want to approach it. In fact, about a quarter (23%) feel they might have to delay full retirement due to COVID-19.

COVID-19 has also caused many pre-retirees to reconsider their financial stability and job security, which ultimately has left around 2 in 5 (41%) feeling financially unprepared for retirement. In fact, less than 1 in 10 (8%) say they feel very financially prepared for the transition.

With so much up in the air since 2020, the truth is, most either have only a vague idea (40%) or no plans at all (27%) for how they’ll fund their retirement – but more than half (52%) surveyed looking forward into retirement wish they could get more support with planning the transition. For those of us who’ve already made the leap to retirement, the transition process was not what was expected. In fact, 2 in 5 (42%) Kiwi retirees admit they underestimated the emotions involved in retirement.

Shifting to a new lifestyle and changing pace can be confronting for us, with many of those surveyed reporting feeling a loss of control over their own lives. For 1 in 3 (32%), retiring means coming to terms with new needs that weren’t expected. Meanwhile, more than half (57%) feel they’ve had to make compromises and as many as 1 in 4 (27%) feel they didn’t have control over when and how they made the transition.

It makes sense then that many of us feel easing into retirement takes time with about 1 in 3 (36%) saying that it took at least three years or more to feel in control of their lives again since making the transition into retirement.

Image of retirement living preferences infographic

Lockdowns allowed us time to reflect on our values and what matters most, encouraging us to weigh up our options when it comes to our future.

For instance, a reconsideration of the importance of social interaction and our broader health and wellbeing during this time has left many of us in two minds about retirement villages. While about half of those surveyed can see the benefits of living in a retirement village – whether it be on-site health care (53%), on-site amenities and activities (52%) or social benefits and community (49%) – around 1 in 2 (51%) are still not particularly keen on this living arrangement. The greatest concerns here lie in finding a retirement village that they will be happy in (43%), being able to pay for it (43%) and feeling like they are losing independence (43%). 

Conversely, the pandemic has presented home care as an appealing alternative to retirement villages and aged care facilities. In fact, close to 1 in 4 (23%) report that recent events have made aged care living less desirable, so much so that around 2 in 3 (67%) senior Kiwis would rather avoid living in a nursing home or would not accept this at all. Despite this, most (61%) agree that the quality of aged care in New Zealand is at least reasonable, while a smaller proportion feel the standard of care is poor (12%) or that it depends on where you go (27%).

Taking a step back, it’s clear that our perceptions towards future living arrangements is grounded in what we value most in life. When asked what worries senior Kiwis most about our future living arrangements, the ability to live independently seems to be the most prominent concern (55%), followed by the affordability of retirement villages (40%) and financial pressures more generally (40%).

Like twos sides of the same coin, when asked what matters most when deciding where and how to settle down, it’s no surprise that being independent takes out the top priority. In fact, 9 in 10 (89%) say that the ability to remain living independently for as long as possible is very or extremely important. Other key considerations when it comes to future living arrangements include affordability (70%), access to health care and other needs (66%), and proximity to amenities (59%).

Age Concern Health Promotion and Policy Manager Joanne Reid weighed in on the discussion, commenting that as Kiwis live longer, healthier, and more active lives, the importance of planning for retirement becomes ever more vital.

“Planning for the transition to retirement is more crucial than it has ever been with the complexity of the lives we now lead. Many people underestimate the importance of having regular social connection in their workplace and the role it plays in their broader wellbeing. For some, retirement can mean feeling their value and sense of purpose diminish.”

“We often see people sleepwalking their way into retirement which means they are less prepared for the realities of this life stage,” says Ms Reid, “but I would encourage everyone to start thinking and planning for their ideal retirement goals in their 40s and 50s. The better prepared the better the experience.”

On the whole, with recent events putting many aspects of our lives into perspective, finding a future that aligns with our personal values has become more important than ever before among our community of Kiwi seniors.

Stay tuned for the next chapter of the New Zealand Seniors Series.