Paint my Retirement

Defined Contribution Participant Perspectives: Third in a Series

How do active DC participants envision their retirement? Of eight retirement scenarios tested, “working at least part-time” is by far the most prevalent at 49%; only 24% of today’s participants expect to be in a position to travel extensively, for example, while barely a fifth (21%) expect to be able to help out younger family members with expenses.

Retirement Expectations Among Active DC Participants


Roughly corroborating this conclusion is a separate finding in which 42% of participants say they expect income in retirement from employment. Indeed, they are looking for employment to provide 13% of their retirement income—less than their DC plan (34%) or Social Security (22%)—but more than income from other personal savings including IRAs (11%).

So is working in retirement about challenge and fulfillment or is it about money? There’s evidence on both sides, of course, but money has an edge. More affluent participants are less likely to expect to work in retirement. Of those expecting to work, “not worrying too much…about money” and “making money to help pay basic expenses” are the two leading reasons, however narrowly, to work (staying healthier, more energetic and mentally alert aren’t far behind). Moreover, economic motivations to work are generally if modestly ascendant compared to 2015 while emotional motivations are declining somewhat. For many participants, then, the retirement canvas looks starkly like the working canvas even if it derives from a slightly different palette.


Reasons for Working in Retirement Among Active DC Participants


Are retirement expectations at least improving as economic attitudes take a sharp turn for the better? Here too, the evidence is mixed. In the plus column more participants than in 2015 expect to be able to leave money for heirs or charities; to be able to pay for health care; to be able to help out younger family members; to live as well or better in retirement than did when they were working and to travel extensively. But the proportion expecting to run out of money in retirement is up slightly and the share expecting to work in retirement is up significantly. On current evidence today’s workers are looking to solve their retirement savings shortfall by not retiring at all.

Retirement Expectations Among Active DC Participants


About the Research

Voice of the Defined Contribution Participant (VDP) studies were launched in 2010 by Brightwork Partners LLC; Brightwork was acquired by NMG Consulting in 2017. Findings are based on selected VDP waves carried out between 2010 and 2017. These studies are conducted online among nationally representative samples of active 401(k), 403(b) and 457 participants.

For more information, contact: 

Merl W. Baker, 203.487.2000;

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