Leisure in Retirement: Beyond the Bucket List
As nearly 10,000 boomers retire each day, retirement leisure is being transformed by three powerful forces:
- The Age Wave: Life expectancy is at an all-time high and the ranks of the retired are growing dramatically.
- Time Affluence: As boomers retire from a workaholic culture, they will swell the ranks of Americans in this “time affluent” stage of life.
- New Beginnings: Rather than viewing retirement as the finish line, nine out of ten (88%) retirees now describe it as an opportunity for new beginnings, and often an entirely new state of mind.
In May 2016, Merrill Lynch and Age Wave launched the “Leisure in Retirement: Beyond the Bucket List” study to understand the priorities, experiences, and challenges of leisure in retirement. This study is based on a nationally representative survey of more than 3,700 respondents. Key findings include:
The Challenge of Retiring from a Workaholic, Time Constrained Life to Time Affluence in Retirement
- We live in a “no-vacation nation.” Americans have the fewest paid vacation days of any developed nation, and even when we do take vacation, 83% of Americans still engage in some work-related activities.
- While pre-retirees view free time as precious and scarce, 79% of retirees say they now have the amount of free time they desire.
- Americans age 65+ are the most “time affluent,” with an average of 7.5 hours of free time/day. That’s 126 billion leisure hours this year alone—and a staggering 2.5 trillion over the next two decades.
- Between 2010 and 2020, as the age wave enters their time affluent years, America will reach a tipping point: The number of Americans in the most time affluent stage of life will exceed those in the most time constrained stage.
Retirement Leisure is Both Transformed and Transformative
Retirees are experiencing liberation from their often workaholic pasts, enjoying more freedom, more fun, new beginnings, and greater emotional wellbeing than at any other point in their lives.
- Greater freedom: 92% of retirees say retirement gives them greater freedom and flexibility to do whatever they want—regardless of how much money they have. Between ages 61-75, retirees reach the “freedom zone,” where they enjoy the greatest balance of health, free time, fun, and emotional wellbeing.
- More fun: Despite popular media portrayals of fun as primarily the domain of youth, it turns out that the experience of fun rises in midlife and peaks in retirement.
- Greater emotional wellbeing: Lifetime emotional wellbeing peaks in retirement. Feelings of happiness, contentment, and relaxation soar, while anxiety seems to plummet.
Life’s True Valuables: Experiences vs. Things
Experiences are the commodity of today’s retirement. Most retirees (95%) say they would prefer to have more enjoyable experiences rather than buy more things. Retires enjoy two types of leisure:
- “Everyday leisure,” where most seek to de-stress and improve their health.
- “Special occasion leisure,” where retirees seek unique or rare peak experiences that give them lasting memories. 81% of retirees say they want a retirement filled with many peak experiences.
The Coming Leisure Boom:
Last year, retired boomers spent more than any other group on leisure travel. As the age wave progresses, the retirement leisure economy will diversify and multiply to an estimated cumulative total of $4.6 trillion.
The New Social Security: Strong Relationships Matter
Retirees tell us who they spend time with (61%) is far more important than what they do (39%), and that’s even more true for women than men. Most retirees (60%) say spending time with grandkids is more fulfilling than spending time with their own children.
The Four Stages of Retirement Leisure
Our study uncovered four distinct stages of retirement leisure and revealed the key experiences, priorities, and connections retirees seek in each stage.
- Stage 1: Winding Down & Gearing Up: In the five years prior to retirement, many pre-retirees feel overwhelmed with work and look forward to more time for the non-work activities they love.
- Stage 2: Liberation & Self-Discovery: Recent retirees (in retirement for two years or less), are enjoying their newfound free time and are adjusting from a work-centered identity to one defined by leisure and other interests.
- Stage 3: Greater Freedom & New Choices: Spanning the period from year 3-15 of retirement, retirees embrace their new identity, feelings of happiness, contentment, and confidence are high, spontaneity peaks, and anxiety wanes.
- Stage 4: Contentment & Accommodation: More than 15 years into their retirement, they are most likely to strive to maintain health and independence, enjoying familiar activities rather than new ones.
The Challenges to Retirement Leisure
Roughly half of retirees have done some planning for leisure in the coming year; far fewer have made plans further out. Two-thirds of those with a partner or spouse have not even discussed how much leisure time they want to spend together in retirement. But planning is the key to making the most of our time affluence, and those who have done some preparation are far more likely to say retirement is more fun, enjoyable, and pleasurable.