A new multigenerational study by Edward Jones and Age Wave reveals challenges and opportunities for senior living providers in four areas: health, family, purpose and finances.

“The Four Pillars of the New Retirement” study is a five-generation look at 9,000 people in the United States and Canada and takes a holistic view of the “new retirement” across those four areas.

Ken Dychtwald, Ph.D., founder and CEO of Age Wave, said the study looks at how to live well in this new stage of life, or “a third age.” Breakthroughs in the 20th century in medicine, pharmacology, antibiotics and refrigeration mean that people are living longer. U.S. population models show modest changes between 2010 and 2030, except in the category of oldest adults.

“Retirement is about to get busy and take up more and more of a footprint,” Dychtwald said during a roundtable discussion about the study. “Retirement is now a time for reinvention, discovering new purpose and the beginning of a whole new chapter in life.” 

The study revealed a new definition for retirement that is more than simply the end of work. The majority of U.S. retirees (55%) defined retirement as a new chapter of life filled with new choices, freedoms and challenges across the previously mentioned four areas.

COVID-19 retirement effect

Despite COVID-19’s disproportionate effect on older adults, they report coping far better than younger generations, the study found.

But the research also suggests that for 68 million Americans, COVID-19 has altered their retirement timing and that 20 million have stopped making retirement savings contributions during the pandemic. Additionally, the report found that only one-fourth of working Americans were on track with their retirement savings before the pandemic.

The study reflected “generational generosity,” with 24 million Americans saying they provided financial support to adult children due to COVID-19. In fact, an overwhelming 71% of retirees said they would financially support their family members even if it meant jeopardizing their own financial future — a move that suggests less potential available funds for their housing.

“People want their communities to be healthy and whole,” Dychtwald said. “I was taken by the resilience and kindness we saw reflected in the American public.”

Despite COVID-10’s effect on finances, 67% of Americans said the pandemic brought their families closer together. Dychtwald said Gen Z is “bunking” with their parents and grandparents and teaching them how to use technology, which is important in this evolving era of telehealth. Older generations spent the time sharing memories, values and life lessons.

“We’ve certainly seen COVID-19’s disruptive force on finances, with the pandemic influencing retirement timing and financial confidence,” said Ken Cella, Edward Jones client services group principal. “However, this cloud has brought several silver linings, in terms of family closeness and important discussions about planning earlier for retirement, saving more for emergencies and even talking through end-of-life plans and long-term care costs.”

Health

Physical health usually declines with age, but mental health improves with age, according to responses. According to the survey, 35% of Gen Z members assessed their mental as very good to excellent compared with 62% of baby boomers and 67% of Silent Generation members.

Dychtwald said older adults have more gratitude, emotional intelligence and fortitude than younger generations.

“COVID-19’s impact forever changed the reality of many Americans, yet we’ve observed a resilience among U.S. retirees in contrast to younger generations,” Dychtwald said. “Older Americans tend to recognize the value of a long-term view, and so as they think about their lives, longevity and legacy, they’re able to pull from an array of experiences that help them weather current storms, feel gratitude about many aspects of their lives, and still plan for the future.”

Even during the pandemic, Alzheimer’s and the loss of brain health (32%) is more feared than cancer (21%), COVID-19 (19%), stroke (15%) and heart attack (13%).  

Purpose

Most retirees (76%) said they derive the greatest sense of purpose from social relationships — specifically with loved ones — and 72% identified becoming a burden on their families as one of their biggest fears.

The study also found that 89% of all Americans believe there should be more ways for retirees to use their talents and knowledge for the benefit of their communities and society at large.

“Retirees say they miss people and purpose, not paychecks, when they retire; but 31% of new retirees are struggling to find purpose in this stage of life,” Dychtwald said. “They want to feel useful, not just youthful, and keep learning and growing at every age.”

Finances

The greatest financial worry for retirees and pre-retirees, according to the study, is healthcare and long-term care. 

Retirees define financial peace of mind as having enough money to live comfortably until end of life, knowing that a spouse/partner will have enough financial resources to the end of life, saving rough to handle unexpected expenses, avoiding becoming a financial burden on family and having no debt.

The study examined 100+ publications and studies, interviewed 13 subject matter experts, and conducted online forums and focus groups across the country. The Harris Poll also conducted an online survey of five generations 18+ in the United States and Canada.