Retirement in Canada: Lots to enjoy about ‘golden years,’ but financial worries loom large — especially for those still working

by Angus Reid | July 1, 2015 9:00 pm

Most Canadians report retiring earlier or later because of circumstances beyond their control.

July 1, 2015 – Who is retiring? When in their lives are they doing it? How are they funding it? Are they satisfied with the experience? A comprehensive new Angus Reid Institute poll provides insights into these questions, and many others. Overall, the survey findings show that the Canadian retirement experience is vastly different for different groups of people, but largely fulfilling for most — notwithstanding quite widespread financial anxiety.

Key Findings:

A special segmentation analysis places Canadian retirees into four broad groups, each displaying a distinct orientation towards retirement and each comprising roughly one-quarter of the retired Canadian population. The four groups are broadly summarized by their names: The “Lovin’ It” crowd, the Comfortable, the Strugglers and the Unhealthy.

PART 1: Anatomy and Financial Realities of Retirement

There are 6.4 million retired or semi-retired people in Canada, according to the Canadian Association of Retired People[1]. They make up nearly a fifth of the overall population.

This special Angus Reid Institute study examined a number of key elements of what might be called the “anatomy of retirement” in Canada – with the main focus being on the circumstances precipitating retirement and Canadians’ financial security once out of the workforce. On both of these counts, the results paint a less-than-comforting picture of “the golden years.”

Early exits for many

First off, not even half (46%) of the retired Canadians surveyed controlled the circumstances surrounding their retirement – instead, as many (48%) said they “retired earlier due at least partly to circumstances outside my control”. Only a handful (6%) retired later than planned.

This syncs with the fairly young retirement ages reported in the survey. Overall, our retired sample splits into three groups: 36 per cent retired at age 55 or younger; 28 per cent retired in their late 50’s (between 56 and 60); and 36 per cent retired at 61 or older.

As would be expected, those who retired earlier than planned were younger still (44% of this group retired at 55 or younger) while the plurality (40%) of those who retired “when and as planned” worked until aged 61 or older.

Nationally, the average retirement age in 2014 was 63, though some specific economic sectors have averages that are higher or lower. According to Statistics Canada[2], the average retirement age has been rising slowly, but steadily, since 2010, when it was 62.1.

Retirees’ financial security

Financial security in retirement is part of the Canadian dream, but can hardly be taken for granted.

Nearly half (48%) of the retired Canadians surveyed agreed with the statement: “I’m worried about my money lasting my lifetime”; roughly one-in-five (19%) strongly agreed. This anxiety is shared by substantial numbers of retired Canadians from all walks of life – including more than half (54%) of retired women and retirees with less formal education (52%).

As bracing as this level of financial anxiety among retirees is, it is perhaps more remarkable that it is shared by roughly three-quarters (74%) of those not yet retired, more than a third of whom (36%) agree strongly with the statement.

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Another survey item asked respondents to broadly describe how they are faring financially in retirement:

Of course, these two measures are highly correlated: fully nine-in-ten (90%) of those struggling to make ends meet are worried about outliving their money, whereas this concern is shared by fewer than one-in-five (17%) of those who say they have plenty of money. Importantly, most (58%) of those in the largest group (those who say they’re “comfortable”) share some anxiety about their money lasting their lifetime.

Freedom 55 – Really?

An early or younger exit from the workforce is not necessarily to be envied from a financial security perspective. The almost half (48%) of retirees who said they were forced by circumstance to retire earlier than planned are as likely to be struggling as they are to say they have enough money to do what they want – 27 per cent in each case, with the plurality (46%) opting for the middle option of “living comfortably.”

Compare this to those who retired when and as planned: 49 per cent say they have enough money to do whatever they want, four-in-ten (43%) are comfortable, and only one-in-ten (8%) is financially struggling.

angus reid institute*Small sample size


How are Canadians financing retirement?

The Canadian retirees surveyed highlighted the following primary means of financing their retirement:

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Of course, how one’s retirement is funded is strongly correlated with financial security:

Public – Private sector divide

Running through all these results is a rather sharp divide between public sector and private sector retirees and, relatedly, between those who had been union members and those who had not. The marked difference in perspective lends considerable credence to arguments about a growing inequity between Canada’s public and private sector workers. Consider the following:

A very similar pattern is noted by union membership history – reflecting the reality of public versus private sector unionization in Canada today.

Did you control the circumstances of your retirement?
Public Sector Private Sector
I retired earlier due at least partly to circumstances outside my control 41% 53%
I retired when and as planned 55% 40%
I retired later due at least partly to circumstances outside my control 4% 8%
What best describes your situation?
Public Sector Private Sector
I have enough money to do everything I want 44% 34%
I live comfortably but don’t have money for extras 44% 44%
Making ends meet is a struggle 12% 22%
I’m worried about my money lasting my lifetime.
Public Sector Private Sector
Strongly agree/Agree 41% 53%
Strongly disagree/Disagree 59% 47%
What are your main sources of retirement income?
Public Sector Private Sector
Government pension (Old Age pension) 57% 57%
Work pension 75% 39%
Your retirement savings (RRSPs, etc) 22% 35%
Investments 9% 15%
Downsizing/selling assets 5% 6%
Inheritance 1% 4%
Support from children/family 1% 1%
Other, specify 2% 10%


PART 2: Working Canadians’ Plans and Expectations

The expectations of Canadians who are not yet retired are somewhat at odds with some of the important retirement realities highlighted by the Angus Reid Institute survey of retirees.

And, as noted earlier, roughly three-quarters (74%) of not-yet-retired Canadians agree with the statement: “I’m worried about my money lasting my lifetime”. This unfortunate sentiment is widely shared by working Canadians from all walks of life.

What best describes your situation?
Retired Non-retired
I (expect to) have enough money to do everything I want 38% 24%
I (expect to) live comfortably but don’t have money for extras 44% 48%
Making ends meet is (or will be) a struggle 18% 28%


What are (do you expect to be) your main sources of retirement income?
Retired Non-retired
Government pension (Old Age pension) 57% 45%
Work pension 53% 34%
Your retirement savings (RRSPs, etc) 30% 50%
Investments 13% 14%
Downsizing/selling assets 6% 11%
Inheritance 3% 5%
Support from children/family 1% 3%
Other, specify 7% 3%


PART 3: The Retirement Experience

This research also took a fairly in-depth look at some of the less tangible – but still critical — aspects of retirement with a view to better understanding Canadians’ overall experience with life after work.

Meaning and letdowns

Most retired Canadians do not seem to have trouble extracting meaning from this phase of their life. Three-quarters (76%) of those surveyed disagreed with the sentiment: “I feel like my life does not have as much meaning now that I’m retired.”

So, what makes retirement meaningful and vital? Those surveyed were asked to choose up to three from a list of eight different possibilities. (Respondents were asked to set aside good health and having enough money and neither was offered on the choice list.)

At the top of the list:

And for many, it’s about having fun:

Rounding out the list:

Interestingly, the non-retired group offered similar priorities when asked what they anticipate will enrich their own retirement. They were somewhat more likely than the already retired to highlight travel (61%) and family time (62%), and somewhat less likely to single out socializing with friends (26%) and volunteering (14%).

But what about letdowns? At the end of the survey, retired respondents were asked to consider the same list and highlight anything about retirement that did not happen or did not measure up as hoped. (Again, health and money were set aside for this exercise.)

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While just more than one-in-ten (13%) volunteered that “quality time with family” is an aspect of retirement that did not measure up, a separate, focused question indicates this is a source of disappointment for a fair number of retirees. More than one-in-four (28%) agreed with the statement: “I am not able to spend as much time with my family as I would like”.

What’s not to like?

Overall, retired Canadians are enjoying this phase of life – the financial concerns of many notwithstanding. The Angus Reid Institute survey asked retirees to agree or disagree with a number of essential characterizations of “the golden years.” Those not yet retired were asked to contemplate their expectations in these same areas. The comparative results show a lot of cohesion between the two groups, but there are some important and interesting divergences as well.

Again, these survey findings show it’s a lot about the leisure factor. The retired Canadians surveyed voiced very high agreement with some leisure-focused statements, and their non-retired counterparts’ expectations on this front are also very positive:

Full days

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As long as you have your health

Of course, an unpleasant reality about retirement is that ill health can all too easily intrude and interfere mightily – or end altogether – the best laid plans. The survey’s focus was on other, more situational aspects of retirement, but we included one key measure of health status to ensure a fuller picture of the retirement experience (and to facilitate the segmentation analysis described below).

Responses clearly highlight that health concerns cast a shadow on many Canadians’ retirement experience. One-in-three (35%) retired Canadians disagreed with the positive sentiment: “Health issues have not held me back from doing what I want to do”. Roughly the same number of still-working Canadians (33%) share this concern that health issues could well hold them back in retirement.

PART 4: Segmentation analysis: retirement mindsets

In order to fully mine this rich data, Angus Reid Institute researchers conducted a special segmentation (or cluster) analysis. This multivariate analytical technique helps uncover underlying structures and relationships within a given survey data set. Respondents are grouped or “segmented” based on shared attitudinal characteristics. This can powerfully illustrate the different unique “mindsets” surrounding the issue at hand – in this case, retirement.

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This segmentation analysis identified four distinct groups of retirees, briefly summarized below:

Click here for the full report including tables and methodology[3]

Click here for the questionnaire used in this survey[4]

Image – Anukrati Omar/Unsplash

Shachi Kurl, Senior Vice President: 604.908.1693[5]

  1. Canadian Association of Retired People:
  2. According to Statistics Canada:
  3. Click here for the full report including tables and methodology:
  4. Click here for the questionnaire used in this survey:

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