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Why Are So Many Americans Choosing To Retire Earlier Than Planned?


The Pew Research Center recently reported that half of U.S. adults 55 and older are retired. While the number of retired Americans age 55 and older grew by about 1 million per year between 2008 and 2019, over the past two years, the number of new retirees grew by 3.5 million. The rise in household wealth among affluent Americans, increasing home prices, a surging stock market, workplace health and safety concerns, and pandemic fatigue have all played a role in driving this increase. Burnout has also played a role, leading employees across all age groups to leave the workforce in what has been coined “the great resignation.”

According to a survey conducted by Indeed, more than half (52%) of respondents said they experienced burnout and 67% said feelings of burnout had worsened over the course of the pandemic. Interestingly, those working virtually were more likely to say burnout had worsened during the pandemic (38%) than those working onsite (28%). The Wall Street Journal reported that nearly 20 million workers resigned between April and August of this year alone, a resignation rate 60% higher than the same period in 2020, and 12% above the spring and summer of 2019, when the job market was the hottest it had been in almost 50 years.

Fortunately, this trend appears to be turning. In December, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the unemployment rate fell to 4.2% in November 2021, with the number of unemployed persons falling by 542,000 to 6.9 million. Both measures are down considerably from their highs at the end of the February – April 2020 recession. However, they still remain above levels seen prior to the pandemic in February 2020, at 3.5% and 5.7 million, respectively.

Those age 55 and over are typically in a better position to leave the workforce due to a greater amount of accumulated wealth than their younger counterparts. However, before you take the leap, you need to understand how you will generate the income you will need for the rest of your life, especially if you choose to retire earlier than planned.

Remember, the earlier you retire, the longer your savings will need to last. That can put additional pressure on your investment portfolio, especially during a periods of increased stock market volatility and low bond market returns. Investing too aggressively could set you up for a fall that you may not have adequate time to recover from, while investing too conservatively could result in the inability to outpace inflation over time.

The only way to determine, with any accuracy, how much you will need and how long it may last is to put a financial plan in place. The planning process will help you identify all of your income sources and the lifestyle goals they will need to support. Working with an independent financial advisor to create a retirement income plan provides an opportunity to:

  • Identify and establish your goals for this next important stage of your life
  • Prioritize your goals to ensure you will have the income you need for another 30+ years
  • Model various scenarios to determine the probability of meeting each of your goals
  • Identify any adjustments or tradeoffs that may be required to accomplish your objectives

The financial planning process also helps to answer these and other important questions:

  • How will you pay for healthcare if you’re not yet eligible for Medicare?
  • What if you have revolving credit card or mortgage debt?
  • When should you begin taking Social Security benefits?
  • How will financial market conditions at the time you choose to retire (sequence of returns risk) impact your withdrawals over time?
  • What if you decide to go back to work after a few months or years?

Choosing when to retire is one of the most important and impactful decisions of your life. Therefore, it’s not something you can afford to guess at or leave to chance. If you have questions about whether now is the right time for you to retire, start by downloading our complimentary guide, 8 Blunders to Avoid in Retirement.

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