By both financial and emotional measures, people aged 75 and older are weathering the pandemic better than most.
They reported far and away the least negative impact on their financial security in a new North American survey by the investment company Edward Jones. They were also least likely to say they have suffered a decline in their mental health in the pandemic, and most likely to say they were coping with the impact of COVID-19 either very or somewhat well.
But the survey suggests trouble ahead in a few different areas related to retirement. For one thing, a lot of people are financially supporting adult children. This financial help could limit the ability to save for retirement, or put an additional demand on existing savings.
More concerning is a striking lack of retirement readiness found among people aged 55 to 64. This may explain why, with COVID-19 in the picture, 33 per cent of working Canadians in the survey said they will postpone retirement. The main reasons for postponing are financial: A reduction in savings, a loss of investment value, a need for more retirement savings to generate income.
The study was conducted between November and early June and involved 1,500 Canadians. Edward Jones is an investment dealer that specializes in storefront locations and has about 850 advisers in Canada.
Surveys like these are undertaken all the time by financial companies in an attempt to define financial or investing issues and frame themselves as experts with solutions. What’s interesting about this particular survey is that it was conducted at a point in time where people had seen enough of the pandemic to have an informed view of its effects on their life and finances.
The study divided the population into five demographic groups – Gen Z (18 to 23), millennials (24 to 39), Gen X (40 to 55), boomers (56 to 74) and the silent generation (75 and up). David Gunn, head of Canadian operations for Edward Jones, noted that seniors are the most medically vulnerable group to COVID-19, while younger cohorts are most vulnerable in an economic sense.
“When you look at Gen Z, millennials and Gen X, the job losses are there and child care has had an impact as well,” Mr. Gunn said. “Also, these generations haven’t been through as many stock-market corrections as the baby boomers and the silent generation. So, there’s a matter of experience there as well.”
Asked how severely they were financially affected by the pandemic, just 6 per cent of people in the 75+ group said the impact was extremely or very negative. Eighteen per cent of boomers said this, 22 per cent of Gen Xers, 29 per cent of millennials and 30 per cent of Gen Z.
The financial stress documented in these numbers poses a risk to both current and future retirees. Extrapolating data from the study, Edward Jones estimated that 1.8 million Canadians have provided financial support to adult children as a result of the pandemic. Almost two-thirds of retirees said they’re willing to provide further support, even if it strains their own finances.
A lot of people looking ahead to retirement weren’t financially well-prepared, even before the pandemic. The study found that among Canadians ages 55 to 64 who do not have a pension plan at work, the median retirement savings was just $3,000. Given how the pandemic has hurt the job market, topping up retirement savings in the near term will be a challenge.
Working longer can also help, although 8 per cent of working people in the study are taking the opposite approach in planning to retire earlier than anticipated.
Mr. Gunn said the pandemic’s financial impact means people are going to have to engage more with retirement investing in the future and, in many cases, that could mean taking a more aggressive approach to investing, i.e. more stock-market exposure.
“What I have seen, and continue to see, is that when an individual doesn’t feel comfortable with investing, they tend to lean to the side of being conservative because they don’t want to lose any more,” he said. “With a deeper knowledge of investing, I think they can make up some time by investing more appropriately for their long-term goals.”
One final, fascinating insight from the study: Asked to define what financial peace of mind means, the top answer by far among retirees aged 50 and up was having no debt. Take a note: Improving your retirement preparedness will require debt reduction alongside retirement saving.
Let’s be realistic – this could be a long process. Those people in the survey who said they will delay retirement as a result of the pandemic are realists.