What does retirement look like in a modern world?


Changing demographics and social norms are calling for a refreshed approach when it comes to retirement and wealth planning.


The days of working for a single employer for your entire career and retiring with a comfortable pension are largely gone. The responsibility for accumulating a retirement nest egg now rests with individuals versus their employers.

Saving enough for retirement is challenging for many people, but an era of changing demographic trends, such as increased longevity and delayed marriage, can make this journey even more difficult.

According to an Ipsos survey, conducted on behalf of RBC Wealth Management–U.S., 53 percent of respondents heading into retirement say they’re concerned about outliving their assets.

As baby boomers face increased longevity and millennials more frequently delay marriage, there are several trends that call for a fresh way of thinking when it comes to retirement and wealth planning.

The modern family

Changing social norms are transforming the structure and look of American families. For example, in the 1960s more than 73 percent of all children were living with two parents in their first marriage. According to the Pew Research Center, that number has more recently dropped to 46 percent.

Modern family traits, such as remarriage, blended families, adult parents cohabitating with kids, and single-parent households are helping to drive this change. These factors create American families that look and function differently today.

Jennifer Linder, a wealth planning consultant at RBC Wealth Management–U.S., highlights some of the issues modern families may face when transitioning to retirement. She stresses the need for “assets to be properly titled, and for beneficiary designations to be kept up to date to ensure your retirement plans and your estate planning all work in harmony with each other.”

“For blended families, asset titling, trusts, and other estate planning documents can be key to ensuring your wishes and legacy are carried out,” notes Linder. “Understanding the implications of beneficiary designations and asset ownership are critical elements of an effective wealth transfer.” She often suggests a pre- or post-nuptial agreement as part of the wealth planning process.

Bill Ringham, director of Private Wealth Strategies for RBC Wealth Management–U.S., adds: “Estate planning for modern families must take into account the family dynamics that exist between the children from the couple’s prior marriages. Avoiding future conflict among extended family after your death is of critical importance.”

Women and longevity

Statistically, women are more likely to outlive their male counterparts. According to the World Health Organization, women typically live six to eight years longer than men. This means they will likely be left in control of the family’s wealth before it’s passed on to the next generation.

Women are also more likely to act as a caregiver during a long-term care event, and may require long-term care themselves.

All of these factors mean women face unique challenges in navigating their long-term financial path, preparing for risks, and marshaling the resources they’ll need for retirement.


of women are most excited about spending time with family in retirement

Addressing the issue of longevity is critical for all retirees, but especially for women. Here are some things to consider:

  • Maximize savings: Employer matches, catch-up contributions and other incentives may go a long way toward shoring up reserves for the future
  • Grow reserves: Continue to invest for the long-term. Maintaining an appropriate amount of growth investments may increase returns to help keep up with the rising cost of living
  • Work longer: A few extra years of pre-retirement income may have a large effect on reserves while also providing other benefits, such as health care and continued contributions to Social Security
  • Consider an encore career: Personally enriching employment that offers employer-sponsored benefits may offer flexibility, income and fulfillment
  • Relocate: Reducing expenses with a lower-cost home or by moving to a low-tax state may reduce expenses as you age

Ringham sees another issue women often face. “Too often, financial advisors focus on the husband when dealing with married couples,” he says. “It’s important women work with a financial advisor who understands their unique retirement and wealth-planning needs.”

Linder adds, “Women need to be strategic in how they set up their assets for retirement. With the multitude of modern roles women experience in their lifetime, from caring for children and aging parents to running their own business, it’s important to understand the financial significance of each of these stages to better prepare for retirement and the unexpected.”

Early retirees

Another trend affecting today’s retirement is many people find themselves retiring earlier than they might have originally planned. Either for reasons of their own choosing, or for reasons beyond their control, 60 percent of retirees leave the workforce earlier than planned, with 61 percent citing health reasons for leaving early.

Top retirement catalysts Anticipated Actual
Age 51% 34%
Changes at work 27% 36%
Financial milestone 15% 7%

Another consideration for retirement planning is determining not only how to fund early retirement, but also how to bridge the gap between employer-sponsored health care and Medicare.

Health care options for early retirees:

  • Health Savings Account (HSA): Consider transitioning to a high-deductible health care plan and leveraging the tax benefits of saving for future health care using an HSA
  • Transition to your spouse’s plan Potentially the least-expensive option, you may register as a dependent until age 65, when you may transition to Medicare
  • COBRA benefits: Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) coverage allows you to stay on your existing plan for up to 18 months. This may be expensive, however, as continuing coverage requires you to pay the entire premium
  • Private health insurance: Some retirees opt for private insurance, seeking flexibility. The ability to find a plan that works for you should be balanced with cost considerations

“Planning for the cost of health care in retirement is the biggest area where many early retirees fail,” says Ringham.

Adding in the costs of bridging the gap until Medicare and the longer time frame faced by early retirees may magnify these issues.

Additional considerations for early retirees include designing a retirement spending plan and a withdrawal strategy for investments and savings, deciding when to claim Social Security benefits and tax planning.

Taking the time to understand your starting point, while exploring your plans for the future, can help you navigate retirement with confidence.

Download the report

Read our full report about exploring the shifting mindset of a new generation of retirees.

City National Bank (CNB) is an affiliate of RBC Wealth Management and an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of Royal Bank of Canada. The report is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be either a specific offer by CNB to sell or provide, or a specific invitation to apply for, any particular financial account, product or service of RBC Wealth Management.

RBC Wealth Management, a division of RBC Capital Markets, LLC, registered investment adviser and Member NYSE/FINRA/SIPC.

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