Biggest pension regrets revealed and gender gap laid bare

More than 10,000 people were questioned for the Great British Retirement Survey and the results shed light on the dreams and realities of retired Britons.

Whether it’s cruise ships and golf, or pipe and slippers, images of retirement frequently verge on the cliché.

Silver-haired and tanned individuals smile at us from advertisements for everything from over-50s life insurance to dental adhesives.

The Moneywise survey, in collaboration with its parent company interactive investor, was conducted by Core Data between February and June this year, with some 10,000 people responding. Retired people shared their experiences, while those who were still in work divulged their expectations and plans.

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The depiction is of a comfortably-off generation, healthy and happy with their new-found freedom.

But, of course, both experiences and expectations of retirement are much more diverse. Growing numbers of people are working into retirement and of those who do quit the rat race, many are anything but winding down.

Some are in a secure financial position, while the finances of others might be a little more precarious or stretched.

Many have the lifestyle that they expected but others experienced a change of circumstances, sending their life down an unexpected track.

This is why Moneywise commissioned The Great British Retirement Survey – to ditch the clichés and achieve a more realistic understanding of retirement in Britain today and to use that information to help younger people better prepare themselves for life after work – whether that is five or 25 years away.

What would we like to change?

The Great British Retirement Survey confirmed that women are likely to have less saved for retirement than men, and are more likely to worry about this stage of life.

For this reason, we want education to be at the heart of government pension policy. From schools through to the workplace, financial education should be compulsory. Irrespective of our gender, we need to be taught why saving is so important and how to do it – with specific guidance around career breaks.

Let’s make retirement income one less thing to worry about.

It was reassuring to see that many of our retired respondents were making the most of their free time: travelling, seeing more of family and friends and doing more exercise were ranked among the most popular pursuits.

Plenty of people were also returning to study and pursuing new and existing interests.

As one respondent says: “I visit the temple more and participate in more activities there each week, including [Bhagavad] Gita study classes, yoga and meditation.”

Another says: “I will be going back to university to do a part-time degree in art history over six years.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, our non-retired respondents had similar aspirations for how they would spend their leisure time.

Despite the move from salary to pension, an impressive 62% have managed to maintain their standard of living into retirement and 66% say that they still have money left at the end of the month.

However, while this might paint a pretty positive picture of retirement it is not all sunshine and roses. A third (31%) say that they need to be more careful with money and 7.1% say that they have had to make major changes to get by.

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Only 42% of retirees say that retirement means a life of pleasure and only 43% agree that it is a time of financial freedom and independence. Clearly not everyone is living the dream.

Lifting the lid on the data, we found significant differences in both the expectations and the experiences of men and women.

A third of women say that retirement is a time of financial uncertainty (32%) compared to less than one in five men (17%). Only 7% of women say it would be a time of poverty, but that is more than three times the number of men (2%).

A quarter (28%) of our retired respondents still work part-time, and it is a trend that looks set to grow, with less than half of pre-retirees (48%) planning to give up work altogether when they retire.

However, twice as many women were working because they needed the money than men (41% compared to 20%). A third of men (34%) say that they will carry on working because they enjoy it, compared to just 14% of women.

The so-called pensions-gap is well reported. Thanks to taking time out to raise children, working part-time and in lower paid jobs, women are likely to retire with smaller pensions – with consultancy firm Mercer putting this gap at roughly 40%.

This was unsurprisingly borne out in the research. More than one in 10 (12%) women expect a household income below £10,000 a year, compared to only 2% of men. At the other end of the spectrum, one in five men (19%) expect an income north of £50,000, but only 8% of women are that confident of their income.

Women’s financial struggles in their 60s have been exacerbated by the equalisation of the state pension age. Many women born in the 1950s who had expected to be eligible for the state pension at age 60 are now having to work longer.

This was a frustration that our survey respondents were eager to share.

“I regret that the government did not tell me it was increasing the state pension age. Now all my retirement savings go on day-to-day expenses. I planned to have a reasonable standard of living in retirement. That has all gone now.”

These issues leave many women dependent on their husband for money – 34% of female respondents say they do or will rely on a husband or partner’s money in retirement, compared to only 17% of males.

As one married man responded: “Our retirement income (my wife’s and my own) is 80% my income. This is because during our working lives, my wife gave up work to look after the children and support my career. As a result, she has only a small occupational pension and a state pension.

"I look after all our finances and my strategy is to transfer all investments to my wife to provide her with an income if I should die first, which will supplement her loss of income from my pension.”

However, other factors could arguably be impacting women’s income in retirement.

A woman waiting with a cup of coffee


A third of women (33%) have no idea what their income will be in retirement, compared to just one in five (19%) men. Men also feel more confident in managing their finances – with 79% equipped with the correct knowledge compared to 56% of women.

Women also devote less time to money management too – 30% spend less than an hour a month on it, more than twice the number of men (14%).

With 29% of men spending six hours a month on their finances, it is perhaps not surprising to see that women do not appear to enjoy it as much. Our survey found that 40% of men get satisfaction from managing their money compared to only 21% of women.

Similarly, only 15% of men describe it as a chore compared with 34% of women.

Men are more likely to invest outside their pension, too. Almost half of men (48%) do or plan to take some income from a stocks and shares Isa, yet only 18% of women will be able to top up their retirement income in this way.

Irrespective of gender, our survey found that unexpected events and changes of circumstances could derail even the best-laid retirement plans.

Both divorce and the need to become a carer in retirement were two issues that frequently came up when respondents were invited to expand on their experiences.

As one retired respondent says: “I have not been in a position to have a private pension as I had to follow my first husband’s job around the country. I then had to take on low-paid, part-time work to look after my children. Latterly, I had to care for my parents, who were both terminally ill at the same time.”

While money can’t buy you happiness, our survey suggests that it can buy you peace of mind.

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Two-thirds (65%) of our retired respondents have some income from final salary pensions compared to 41% of pre-retirees. These so-called gold-plated schemes pay a guaranteed income for life, irrespective of stockmarket movements and if you die there is usually an income left for your spouse.

This sets them apart from the more commonly held personal or defined contribution pensions where plan holders invest contributions to build a finite pot that they must manage and convert to income when they retire.

Only one in five of those (19%) with a final salary pension says they will need to make changes to their standard of living in retirement compared to a third (31%) of those without.

Likewise, 57% of those with a final salary pension say that their lifestyle has or will improve in retirement, compared to 49% of those without.

However, the costly nature of these schemes means that many have been closed fully or shut to new members, meaning that as each year passes the number of people retiring with this type of pension will dwindle.

This puts the onus on future generations to plan their retirement income carefully if they do not want to spend it worrying about money. 

Financial regrets and the inter-generational divide

Our survey respondents have numerous financial regrets from frittering away money on small things, to starting to save too late, and walking away from a relationship empty-handed.

Few however regretted giving money to their children – whether it be to pay for their education or help them buy their first home.

Half our respondents (51%) believe that younger generations have it harder than they did – with particular sympathy for student debt and the price of property.

As one respondent says: “They have awful pressure from a combination of repaying university costs, starting pension contributions, getting a deposit together for a first property, and relationship problems seem far more common these days and can prove expensive.”

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However, this sentiment was often countered by comments on different expectations from younger generations.

Another retiree says: “I started part-time home working at the age of 12, part-time in the economy at the age of 15, had part-time jobs through university, was working three jobs a day and doing part-time study from 1979 to 1981 and went almost two years without any income during the 1990s recession.

“However, youngsters from poorer backgrounds have even less chance of getting on the housing ladder in the South East than I had.

“Furthermore, the peer pressure to conform to the idea of buying designer clothes, mobile phones, etc was non-existent in my youth (I was brought up on a council housing estate where everybody was poor). When I had no money, I went without.

“There seems to be an expectation today that nobody should go without, but there seem to be fewer jobs for youngsters to pick up some extra money.”

A older worker facing having to work longer until retirement

Five retirement tips

While we would like to see government and financial services providers pull together, there is plenty that individuals can do to improve their position.

The sooner that you engage with your retirement saving, the more likely you are to retire comfortably.

1. Fast-forward to your retirement: whether its fast-approaching or years away, it is never too soon to think about your retirement. How will you want to spend your time, will you be happy carrying on working, where will your money come from, and how much will you need to live?

2. Find out where you stand: get a state pension forecast and check private pension statements to find out your likely retirement income.

3. Prepare for the unexpected: in addition to thinking about how you would like to live, it also makes sense to think about how a change of circumstances could impact on your finances and your lifestyle.

4. Take ownership of your financial position: how much you receive under the new state pension is based on your national insurance contributions, not your spouse’s. While many of us will inevitably rely on someone else’s income in retirement, it still makes sense to consider how we would get by without that money.

5. Pump up your pension: going through this exercise will give you an idea of how well prepared you are financially for retirement and could give you the necessary incentive to pay more money into your pension.

- This article was first written by our sister magazine Moneywise.

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