March 13, 2012 at 11:21 AM ET
The Great Recession of 2007-09 has turned expectations about retirement upside-down.
Just five years ago, only 16 percent of Americans said they would delay retirement until age 70 or older. Now a record 26 percent of those surveyed say they expect to be septuagenarians before they retire, according to annual survey on retirement from the Employee Benefit Research Institute.
The shift is consistent with a decades-long trend of a rising retirement age. In 1991, 84 percent of workers surveyed said they expected to retire by age 65, including 19 percent who expected to quit before age 60.
Now only 50 percent expect to retire by age 65 and only 8 percent are so optimistic as to think they can begin living a life of leisure before 60.
The actual retirement age also has been rising, especially for women, according to research by Alicia Munnell of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
The average age of expected retirement has been rising ever since the recession ended, according to the EBRI, which has been doing the annual survey for 22 years. The most commonly cited reasons for delaying retirement are the poor economy, a lack of faith in Social Security and a "change in employment situation."
Experts caution that even though many of us think we will continue working past age 65, life often has other plans. About half of retirees surveyed said they left the work force earlier than they planned, mainly for health reasons. Others were forced out of their jobs because of layoffs, plant closures or family reasons, such as having to care for a loved one.
The EBRI, a research group funded largely by financial service companies, says only 52 percent of workers are "very" or "somewhat" confident they have enough money to live comfortably through their retirement years. That is up a bit from last year but down from 70 percent in 2007.
The survey of more than 1,200 adults was conducted in January and has an expected margin of error of 3 percentage points.