May 8, 2009 / 7:47 PM / in 9 years

Debt delays retirement for Canada's boomers: study

TORONTO (Reuters) - More than a quarter of Canada’s baby boomers believe they’ll have to work longer than expected as paying down debt and building up a bigger nest egg become a top priority in the economic downturn, a new survey has found.

The number of boomers who cite reducing debt as their most pressing financial concern soared from 31 percent to 62 percent over the past six months, according to an online survey conducted by Ipsos Reid for Royal Bank of Canada.

“What we saw was a move toward living within your means, a move toward a more conservative approach to things,” said Lee Anne Davies, a gerontologist and head of retirement strategies at Royal Bank. “And I think that’s a reflection of what has happened in the last few months and how people really start to reprioritize.”

Baby boomers, the post-war cohort born between 1946 and 1965, make up the largest population demographic in Canada, according to Statistics Canada.

Twenty-six percent of those surveyed said they may be forced to delay their retirement as they simultaneously aim to pay off debt and build up a nest egg.

“Working a few extra years can actually be a very smart move for them,” Davies said about retirement planning.

“The last six months has given them more of a reality check. You get into retirement and the unexpected can occur and you’ll need to have a plan to manage that, and part of that plan may mean working a few more years before you actually retire.”

The findings represent a departure from the traditional retirement age of 65 and are in sharp contrast to government figures that show Canadians typically retire at age 61.

One-in-five of those closing in on retirement said they don’t expect to live the comfortable lifestyle they initially envisioned, the survey found.

“I think that’s a reflection of changes in the economy,” Davies said. “And we can even see changes in our society as far as starting to reflect on the importance of relationships and maybe reducing consumption and really living more within your means.”

The online survey, conducted in April, was based on a representative sample of 1,028 Canadians, including 518 boomers between the ages of 50 and 69. The margin of error was estimated at plus or minus 3.05 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Reporting by Ashleigh Patterson; editing by Rob Wilson

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