Skip to main content

You are here


Researchers Say Retirement Plans Unperturbed by COVID

Practice Management

COVID may have some lasting effects, but changed expectations concerning retirement are not among them, said an expert panel in a recent webinar. 

In “Staying Optimistic: Older Americans’ Retirement Expectations Remain Uninterrupted Despite COVID-19 Impact,” a Sept. 15 webinar held by the Employee Benefits Research Institute and moderated by Nevin Adams, Chief Content Officer, American Retirement Association, three industry insiders expressed a positive take on the long-term health of employees’ expectations concerning retirement — despite recent travails. 

Panelists included EBRI Senior Research Associate Zhikun Liu, PGIM Managing Director & Head of Retirement Research David Blanchett, and LPL Financial Investment Advisor Representative Christina Tunison.

COVID and Work

EBRI’s review of the 2020 Health and Retirement Study (HRS) found that COVID-19 had a significant effect on the work and financial situations of American adults age 50 and older – 40% said their work was affected. Almost half of those who said that they had to stop work were temporarily laid off or furloughed. 

HRS Respondents said that the pandemic had a variety of effects on their work, including: 

  • Switched to working from home or working remotely: 38.1%;
  • Had to change work days/hours: 21%;
  • Work became more risky or dangerous: 12.1%; and
  • Work became harder: 9.2%.

But the pandemic’s effects were relatively uniform in some respects, according to EBRI. They report that the there was no substantial difference by economic status in the effect COVID had on their work. 

Percentages of Those Reporting That Their Work Was Affected, by Income Group

Income Group % Affected
Less than $10,000 61.74
$10,000-$40,000 61.16
$50,000-$90,000 60.59
$90,000-$160,000 68.23
$160,000-$210,000 61.02
$210,000 or more 60.87


In addition, there was little difference between demographic groups through age 69. 

Percentages of Those Reporting That Their Work Was Affected, by Age Group

Age Group % Affected
24-54 61.48
55-59 62.69
60-64 63.45
65-69 63.44
70-74 58.10
75-79 52.67
80 and older 42.97


And a strong majority — 75.7% — said that their financial situation remained the same despite the pandemic.
EBRI researchers did find one difference: they found that among those with relatively fewer years of education, male participants are more likely to report their job was affected than female participants. 

Retirement Age

EBRI found that the pandemic affected employees in their work, but it also found that while there is generally a natural trend for older American adults to expect their retirement date to shift backward, there was no “statistically significant relationship” between delaying retirement and the pandemic, and that the pandemic did not change that trajectory; in addition, the size of the gap between the two did not grow significantly.

Group Anticipated Age, 2016 Anticipated Age, 2018 Anticipated Age, 2020
Those who plan to stop working 65.5 66 66.4
Those who think they will stop working 67.4 67.9 69.2


“Older American adults’ retirement expectations (including planned retirement age and Social Security benefit claiming age) remain uninterrupted despite enduring through the COVID-19 impact on their work and financial situations in 2020,” says EBRI. 

Further, Liu remarked, EBRI found no significant differences between the average planned and expected retirement ages for those who reported their work had been affected by COVID and those who reported that their work had not been affected.

Group Average Planned Retirement Age Average Expected Retirement Age
Those whose work was affected by COVID 66.04 69.14
Those whose work was not affected by COVID 66.75 69.24


“I was shocked” by how small the amount of change there was in expected retirement ages, said Blanchett. “COVID really was a non-event” regarding expected retirement ages, he told attendees. 

“It’s a surprise, but it’s a good surprise,” said Liu, commenting that people’s expectations become more realistic as they approach the age at which they are expected to retire, and therefore may be more likely to delay retirement. 

There was a difference in age expectations in one area, however. Liu said that those whose work was affected by COVID-19 expect a slightly later age for claiming Social Security benefits — but only a difference of seven months, which he said is statistically significant but “not economically significant.”

Savings Expectations

Expectations concerning how sufficient savings will be for retirement also were unaffected by the pandemic, Blanchett suggested. He cited research by PGIM that showed that in June 2020, approximately 39% of those surveyed expressed confidence that their savings would be sufficient; the same as in November 2021. 

Looking Ahead

Tunison looked ahead, remarking that after “the immediacy of COVID” — that is, the first few months — people tried to conceptualize how much money they’ll have. “That’s a moving target over the years,” Tunison said.

Liu expressed a similar sentiment. He said that it is harder for younger people to envision their retirement savings during a time of market volatility, since they have not been through such an experience before. 

Blanchett, however, remarked that it is not just younger generations who feel some uncertainty due to market volatility – and he noted that older generations are responding most. “They’re the ones making the worst decisions,” he said. Zhikun suggested that part of the reason for that may be that they have more money than any of the demographic groups.