The good, the bad and the unexpected lives of UK pensioners

If you’ve ever wished that you could retire early, ditch the 9 to 5 and enjoy your freedom,  you could be in for a few surprises. In 2017 we spoke with over 2,000 retirees and asked them three simple questions about their retirement. The results were educating, at times funny and occasionally poignant. It's clear that nobody experiences retirement in quite the same way. Read on to see the results and how others feel about retirement.
There are contact details to find out more about retirement and for further support in the helpful resources section.

The good

The retirees we spoke to cited freedom, more time for family and hobbies as their most enjoyable change since finishing work. 1 in 10 were enjoying the extra time with grandchildren and family, while 3 in 10 had a sense of freedom and extra time.

“Spending time with family and playing in a band”

A lie-in in bed rated almost as highly as time for hobbies, with around 7% saying that they didn’t miss the early morning starts. 'Not commuting' was a repeating theme, with 2% happy to be leaving the cramped train journeys and traffic jams behind them. Instead of a daily commute, 10% were taking advantage of opportunities to take more holidays and travel. Instead of having to fit around busy work schedules, they relished having choice and flexibility over plans.

 “Going back to bed with a cup of tea”

For the procrastinators among us, it’s worth noting that DIY was not a particular focus for all this free time. Only a handful mentioned this as an especially enjoyable aspect of retirement. So leaky taps and wonky shelves may still have to wait for attention! It isn’t just lazing in bed and holidays that makes people happy though.

“Time to develop creative writing skills”

Many retirees needed and found purpose at the end of their careers by volunteering or study. No longer burdened with the pressures to opt for vocational courses, the fields of study varied to include everything from nature and wildlife to family history. Being able to choose how they could utilise their professional and social skills in their spare time gave many a sense of satisfaction.

What were the top 10 answers
25% No time pressure 
12% Freedom 
12% Hobbies 
9%  Grandkids/Family 
6%  Traveling 
4%  Not working 
3%  Jobs in the home/garden 
3%  Holidays 
3%  Social/friends 
3%  No/less stress 

The bad

The fantasy of throwing off the suit and finally having time for a fun-packed life, wasn’t a true reflection of everyone’s experience. Many missed the mental stimulation and friendships provided by their work and colleagues. A lack of daily contact with familiar faces left many expressing feelings of loneliness. Being part of a team, routine and even gossip were missed when working life finished. Other studies have highlighted that loneliness disproportionately affects older people. Around 8% of respondents aged over 65 said they felt lonely most or all days during the last 2 weeks, which was the highest for any age group (3%-5% in other age groups)[1] and almost 7% having no close friends.[2]

“[missing the] camaraderie with workmates”

The social networks created through work are harder to maintain in retirement and this can lead to isolation. So how does this impact life at home with spouses?

Perhaps unromantically, some reflected that spending time with their partners was a major negative point of retirement. For a few husbands, the feeling was expressed that they were now seen as more available for DIY and housework or that they simply felt that they were now too frequently in their “wife’s space”.

“Wife having me do lots of jobs”

For others though, there was a terrible regret that their loved ones were no longer alive and that retirement would be faced alone. In the UK, nearly half (49%) of all people aged 75 and over live alone so it was expected that these circumstances would feature in our responses[3]. The research showed that in some cases, although couples were living together, poor health for one partner had meant that the long-awaited retirement would now be spent as a carer or that plans would need to be scaled back. It was clear that bereavement had a huge impact on many of our customers and that some would appreciate additional emotional support.

“Time slips by so quickly”

The realisation of the aging process hit many hard too. Retiring for some was confirmation that they were “getting old” with some citing grey hairs and bodily ailments as the biggest downside. Deteriorating health and medical issues preoccupied many of those that we questioned. There was a sense that respondents really treasured their good health in the knowledge that it wasn’t guaranteed.

A sense of time passing more quickly was mentioned frequently. Respondents described “not [having] enough time” left to do everything they want to do – a sense of time moving too fast. Perhaps it is in part, a consequence of removing the distractions of work, that some retirees are driven to reflect on their own mortality. This was just a short survey, and not a psychologically motivated interview, but one can easily imagine this pairing of loneliness and reflection could lead to melancholy or even depression. According to a 2014 YouGov survey, 2.9 million older people (65+) in Great Britain feel they have no one to turn to for help and support.[4]

A lack of money or sense that finances were ‘tight’ was also the most common answer given by respondents. 14% said that money worries, bills or a reduced income were the least enjoyable part of retirement.  However, in contrast some expressed how they were pleasantly surprised at how comfortable they were financially. According the DWP figures the poorest fifth of single pensioners had median net incomes of £106 a week after meeting housing costs (2015/16 prices), while the richest fifth had £408. The mean average clearly does not tell the whole story as the impact of private pensions, housing costs and marital situation all have a significant impact on how pensioners are able to ‘balance the books’. These variations in situation help to explain the opposing views expressed in our survey.

What were the top 10 answers?
14% Financial worries 
11%  Getting older 
9%  Health worries 
8%  Missing work social life 
6%  Nothing - I enjoy everything! 
6%  Loneliness 
5%  Time passing quickly 
4%  Losing loved ones 
4%  Aches and pains 
3%  The weather/winter 

[1] Survey of public attitudes and behaviours towards the environment. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), 2011

[2] University of Essex. Institute for Social and Economic Research, Understanding Society: Waves 1-5, 2009-2014 [computer file]. 7th Edition. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], November 2015. SN: 6614, http://dx.doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-6614-7

[3]Labour Force Survey (LFS), Office for National Statistics, 2015  

[4] YouGov online survey for Age UK, Total sample 2,247 adults 18+, of which 439 aged 65+, December 2014

The unexpected

The biggest surprise by far was – that time goes quickly. People found it easy to fill their day and almost wondered how they ever found the time to work! Having expected to luxuriate in ‘free time’ they instead have found themselves in a packed schedule and many are enjoying new hobbies and unexpected friendships.

Top 10 surprises in retirement

  • How quickly time flies
  • How busy I am
  • How much I enjoy it
  • I'm better off than expected/when I worked etc
  • How difficult it is to manage financially
  • So many activities and opportunities
  • Freedom to do what I want and when I want
  • More leisure time
  • I'm still alive & healthy
  • How nice people are/the value of friends and contacts
  • More unusual surprises

“How many toilet rolls we use”

“Still not enough time to clean loft”

“Suddenly transitioned to wearing beige and cream”

“The kindness of people”

“Starting new relationship with lovely lady”

It’s apparent that financial health plays a critical role in later life happiness and wellbeing. Decisions made around our pensions, investments and assets like our homes can really swing the balance in favour of an active, positive outlook after 65.

Helpful resources

Affected by any of the issues raised in this report? Please find below some contact details and resources which you find helpful.