New NPR Poll Gives Snapshot of Aging, Retirement

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Dad wakes up to the local National Public Radio station. Normally, I try to tune it out as I read the newspapers, but this morning was much different. NPR reported on a newly released health and retirement poll that was cosponsored by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health. So I went to the NPR site and found the slides describing the findings, which proved to be an interesting contrast between Baby Boomers who are quickly approaching retirement and the generation before.


    First of all, pre-retirees are holding off on retiring. The NPR poll asked pre-retirees to identify when they plan to retire (or partly retire) and retirees about when they did partly or complete retire. Forty-two percent of pre-retirees felt they would retire between the ages of 65-69. Interesting, the largest percentage of retirees (31%) retired when they were between the ages of 60-64% while 29% retired between 50-59 and 16% retired between 65-69. The current economic issues may be behind the responses by many pre-retirees; for instance, 16% couldn’t project when they’ll retire, while 15% are estimating they’ll retire between the ages of 70-79.

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    Another interesting line of questions involved longevity. The largest percentage of both groups (49% of pre-retirees and 40% of retirees) thought they would die while in their 80s. Eighteen percent of pre-retirees and 22% of retirees estimated they would live into their 90s. Fifteen percent of pre-retirees and 12% of retirees said death would come in their 70s. Finally, 11% of pre-retirees and 10% of retirees expressed optimism that they’ll live to be at least 100 years of age.


    One of the big issues that I always consider when talking to friends about aging and retirement is quality of life. Therefore, I was glad to the poll asked several questions about this area. For instance, retirees were asked to compare several factors related to their life during retirement to the time when they worked. A majority (52%) felt that the healthfulness of their diet remained the same, while 34% said their diet had improved. Additionally 39% of respondents said their stress levels were lower while 35% said these levels were about the same as when they were working. Thirty-four percent said they were doing more of the activities, such as sports and hobbies than they did prior to retirement while 43% said they were doing about the same amount of these activities.


    In another question, retirees were asked to assess several areas as to whether they were better or worse than five years before retirement. Twenty-five percent responded that life overall was worse; furthermore, 39% also said their health was worse. Thirty-four percent of retirees said the overall exercise they get was worse than five years before retirement. Interesting, pre-retirees’ responses to these same questions showed a rosier expectation of what they would be able to do. Only fourteen percent of pre-retirees felt that their overall life would be worse in retirement. Furthermore, 13% of pre-retirees believed they would have worse health and only 1% expected that they would exercise less as a retiree.


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    Retirees and pre-retirees also were asked, “Do you expect your overall health during your retirement to be better, worse or about the same as compared to the overall health of people of your parents’ generation during their retirement?” Fifty-eight percent of pre-retirees said they expected better health, as did 53% of retirees. Thirty-three percent of pre-retirees and 29% of retirees believed their health would be about the same as people of their parents’ generation. Eight percent of pre-retirees and 14% of retirees expected their health to be worse than the previous generation.


    Pre-retirees and retirees also were asked to identify actions that they’ve done to stay healthy during retirement. Diet and exercise figured prominently in their answers. Eighty-three percent of pre-retirees and 76% of retirees said they were watching their weight while 72% of pre-retirees and 44% of retirees reported increasing the amount of physical activity or exercise they get. Sixty-eight percent of pre-retirees and 58% of retirees have changed their diet or the food they eat. Pollsters also asked pre-retirees and retirees about the aspects of a community that promote a healthy retirement. Some of the responses also were related to diet and exercise. For instance, 83% of pre-retirees and 79% of retirees believed that access of affordable fresh fruits and vegetables is important. In addition, 80% of pre-retirees and 68% of retirees said that access to outdoor space for walking, jogging and sports were critical.


    These poll results are interesting and can help government officials, health professionals and communities in their planning for an aging population. It’s good to know that many pre-retirees are trying to take care of themselves through diet and exercise, but a lot of education is still needed to help them understand what they’ll face as they age.

Published On: October 04, 2011

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