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Early retirement

Sixty is the most popular age to retire early but those who do find happiness it comes at a cost

  • One in four (25%) Brits who aspire to retire early aim to do so at 60
  • 60 also the most popular age for early retirement among those who have already retired (17%)
  • 68% of people report an increase in overall happiness as a result of retiring early – but there can be a price to pay, with 47% of early retirees finding their finances take a hit
  • Paying off your mortgage and saving little and often are key stepping stones to an early retirement
  • Nearly one in four (24%) who return to work after retiring early do so because they experience financial issues

 Sixty is the most popular age to retire early, according to new research from Aviva [4] which reveals the key steps people have taken to embrace early retirement and examines the costs and benefits of doing so.

With the state pension age currently standing at 66, the findings show one in six (17%) people who have taken early retirement did so when they were 60, making it the most common age to make an early exit from working life. This is also the most popular target age for people who intend to retire early in the years ahead, with one in four (25%) planning to celebrate their 60th birthday by leaving work behind.

The desire to retire early is primarily driven by “wanting to enjoy more freedom while still being physically fit and well enough to enjoy it”. Nearly one in three people (32%) who have retired early or plan to do so gave this reason for embracing a new lifestyle.

Financial security is the second most common factor prompting people to embrace retirement. More than one in four (26%) early retirees say their decision was a result of “being in a financially stable position” so they can afford not to work.

The influence of money matters is also visible in people’s choice of early retirement age. One in five (20%) people targeting early retirement have set their sights on 55 to make the transition from working life. This is likely to be influenced by their ability to access their pension savings from this age.

Other key factors encouraging people to seek early retirement include reassessing their priorities and what’s important to them in life (23%), wishing to spend more time with family (20%) or finding they are either “tired and bored” of working (19%) or find it “too taxing and stressful” (19%).

The early retirement payoff and the price you pay

Aviva’s research suggests the impacts of early retirement are wide-ranging and broadly positive in many areas of life. Most notably, more than two in three (68%) people who have retired early say their happiness improved as a result.

In terms of the world around them, 44% of early retirees say their family relationships improved and 34% reported improvements in their friendships.

When it comes to their health and wellbeing, more than half report that early retirement has delivered a boost to their mental wellbeing (57%) and half (50%) say their physical wellbeing improved.

However, the findings suggest these benefits come at a cost, with nearly half of early retirees finding their finances worsening as a result (47%). Women are the most likely to have felt a negative financial impact from retiring early (50% vs. 44% of men). Across both genders, only 22% feel they have benefitted financially from their decision to retire early.

 Stepping stones to an early retirement

Among those people who have retired early, one in three (32%) identify having a defined benefit (final salary) pension among the main measures that enabled them to take retirement into their own hands. This suggests the concept of early retirement may get harder for younger generations to achieve, with the majority of the private sector workforce now saving into defined contribution pension schemes.

However, Aviva’s findings suggest that people can still take positive steps to make an early retirement possible. Paying off your mortgage (30%) is identified as the second most common stepping stone to retiring early, while almost three in ten early retirees (29%) say saving little and often was one of their main strategies. Nearly one in five (19%) say they also saved extra whenever they received a payrise or a bonus during their working life.

Table 1: The main measures enabling people to retire early or think about retiring early

  • Having a defined benefit (final salary) pension 32%
  • Paying off my mortgage 30%
  • Saving little and often 29% 
  • Saving extra whenever I received a pay rise or bonus 19%
  • Receiving a redundancy payout 16%
  • Receiving an inheritance 14%

Among those who take early retirement, the research also reveals there is a small contingent who have returned to work (17%) or envisage themselves doing so in the future (15%).

Over one in four (27%) cite the reason for returning to work is because they “wanted a new sense of purpose”, making this the most frequent driver, followed by “missing the company and social interactions with colleagues” (26%). However, a similar number (24%) of early retirees find themselves heading back to work having experienced financial issues.

Alistair McQueen, Head of Savings & Retirement at Aviva, comments:

“The turbulent times we’re living through have given many people pause for thought to consider their work-life balance and think more seriously about what makes them happy. Our findings suggest the dream of an early retirement is very much alive and kicking, but there are many factors to consider along the way and the current uncertainty about the future does not make this an easy decision.

“The experiences of people who’ve already reached early retirement show that small savings habits, which add up over time, are every bit as important as big gestures such as putting aside any year-end bonus.

“It’s also important to learn from the lesson that, while happiness soars in retirement, many people find their finances take the strain when they retire early and money worries are one of the biggest  factors resulting in people returning to work. If you aspire to retire early, it’s vital you plan your finances to be sustainable for the long-term. Using tools like Aviva’s Mid-Life MOT app [5] can help people feel in control of their destination and plot a realistic course towards retiring early.”