News, Syndicated Studies

Survey: Market Optimism Makes a Comeback, But There is Lingering Concern About the Direction of the Economy

Remote Work Arrangements Have Major Impact on Retirement Timing and Transition

Washington, DC (December 12, 2023) – An improving economy is restoring consumers’ financial confidence, with nearly half of consumers saying they’re optimistic about their investments (46%). This marks a significant boost from 2022, in which only 31% were optimistic.

Despite positive economic trends, Greenwald Research’s 2023 Retiree Insights Program Consumer Survey also found that fully half of consumers believe the economy is headed in the wrong direction – with only 28% saying it’s headed in the right direction. This bigger picture worry may be why investment optimism hasn’t fully rebounded from the 67% optimistic mark in 2021.

“Consumers are less worried about inflation, recession and losing a major amount of money in the market than they were a year ago,” says Doug Kincaid, Greenwald’s Managing Director, Financial Services. “But there is still a feeling of uncertainty out there for many pre-retirees and retirees. Part of the uncertainty is no doubt connected to anxiety about politics leading up to next year’s presidential election. We’re seeing a high level of worry about the current state of politics, and it is consistent regardless of the consumer’s asset level and whether the consumer is retired or still working.”

For its 11th annual Retiree Insights Program Consumer Survey, Greenwald surveyed 1,003 consumers between 50 and 70 years of age with investable assets of at least $200,000 and no income from a defined benefit plan. Its key findings include:

Consumers are far more optimistic about the markets. In 2022, only 31% of consumers said they were optimistic about the markets and their investment outlook. In 2023, that number jumped to 46%. Conversely, a year ago 36% of consumers said they were pessimistic about their investment outlook. Now that number’s been cut in half, to 18%.

Pre-retirees feel much less financially secure than retirees. Nearly half of retirees (48%) report feeling “extremely” or “very” financially secure, compared to just 29% of pre-retirees. More than half of pre-retirees (57%) say they’ve cut back on discretionary spending because of inflation, compared to 42% of retirees. Similarly, 29% of pre-retirees say they’ve cut back on essential spending, compared to 19% of retirees.

The threat of contentious politics is top of mind, with no less than 83% of respondents citing it as their number one financial worry. It’s followed by fears of inflation (72%, down from 79% in 2022), and an economic recession (69%, down from 79%).

Retirees are (perhaps naively) confident about handling unexpected expenses. Fully 90% of retirees say they’re ready for unexpected expenses, and more than half have already encountered them – with home repairs, healthcare expenses, and auto expenses being the most common. But only 2% of retired respondents have experienced a long-term care need, and healthcare and long-term care expenses can rise exponentially as retirees get to their 80s and beyond. Only 57% of responding retirees have an actual strategy for handling unexpected expenses.

The ability to work from home has a big impact on plans for retirement. The growth of remote work arrangements has spawned potentially major retirement trends. Of pre-retirees who work remotely at least occasionally, 63% say they’re more likely to postpone retirement and 60% say they’re more likely to transition gradually into retirement. And 34% say that if they had to return to the office permanently, they would retire early.

Transitioning into retirement isn’t just a financial decision. Consistent with prior years, about three in four pre-retirees plan to transition to retirement gradually. But it’s not just about the income. Fully 65% of those planning to phase into retirement say they want to stay active. More than half – 54% — say they like working or like what they do enough to not to give it up completely. Just over half – 51% — say they want extra income to pay for discretionary expenses.

To learn more about the 2023 Retiree Insights Program Consumer Survey, contact A companion survey involving more than 300 financial professionals – who were even more optimistic about the current investment outlook – is also available. A summary of the financial professionals study is available here.

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Greenwald Research is a leading independent custom research firm and consulting partner to the health and wealth industries that applies creative quantitative and qualitative methods to produce knowledge that helps companies stay competitive and navigate industry change. By leveraging deep subject matter expertise and a trusted consultative approach, Greenwald offers comprehensive services for weaving rich research stories that answer strategic business questions. For 30 years, Greenwald has partnered with the Employee Benefits Research Institute to conduct the annual Retirement Confidence Survey.

Herb Perone