Business Front: When do you plan to retire?

Just a bit over one year ago, Sun Life Financial asked Canadians a number of questions about retirement. One of them was: when do you plan to retire?
The answer was unremarkable: 65. This is the traditional age when people stop working. This is what I’d expect most folks to answer.
Okay then. Fast forward twelve months? Same question: When do you plan to retire? However, this time around we said: 68. In one short year, a large, representative sample indicated that we had pushed back our retirement plans by three whole years.
I find the timing remarkable. Over the past year, the economy has improved—particularly the labour market. People have to be feeling better about themselves and their financial affairs. On top of that, there have been sharp increases in the world’s stock markets.
I know that when I look at my RRSP, I feel a heckuva’ lot better than I did in April 2009. And last but certainly not least, housing prices continue to climb. This remains our biggest single financial asset.
When you put it all together, it would seem that if ideas about retirement had changed in the past year, it would suggest earlier, rather than later, retirement.
But that’s not the case. And it seems to me that in this attitudinal change there is something very significant going on. A poll recently conducted by Environics Research said one-third of Canadians aged 45 to 64 said they expected…note the word…expected, lottery winnings would support their retirement.
What does this mean? It tells me that many of us are grasping at straws. It also says that in our hearts we know that the traditional retirement age of 65 is a thing of the past…the question is, what is the new retirement reality?
By the way, I’m not particularly lamenting that we’re going to have to work to a riper age than past generations. To start, we’re joining the workforce later. At the other end of the life spectrum, we’re living longer.
And we’ve got to keep in mind that there is a broad social good served by pushing back retirement: more hours worked means more production of goods and services and a higher standard of living.
However, it doesn’t necessarily mean a better quality of life. That’s going to be one of Canada’s challenges in the years to come—ensuring that as we work longer and our standard of living improves, we take our quality of life up along with it.
Toronto-based Michael Hlinka provides daily business commentary to CBC Radio One and a column syndicated across the CBC network.