Canadians’ view of retirement coloured by age, income, gender, and economic outlook

Do you see your retirement as golden or grey?

2011 Sun Life Canadian Unretirement™ Index shows major factors influencing when you think you’ll retire and what you think you’ll be doing after age 65

Toronto, March 8, 2011 – Canadians have become less optimistic about retirement as the recovery from the global recession continues. The average Canadian expects to retire at age 68, according to the 2011 Canadian Unretirement Index, released by Sun Life Financial today. That’s three years later than respondents reported in the same study a year ago.

The downturn has had the most significant impact on the retirement expectations among those earning less than $50,000 per year. They’re less confident about how prepared they are for retirement, and they expect to retire later – at age 70 on average – as a result. Canadians who earn over $100,000 expect, on average, to retire at the traditional age of 65. Income is also a factor when it comes to retirement activities:

  • Those with incomes over $100,000 are inclined to cite personal fulfillment for continuing to work: 71% say they’ll work past age 65 to stay mentally active, and 60% say they’ll keep working because they enjoy their job or career.
  • Many of those making less than $50,000 per year (68%) say a main reason for working past age 65 is to earn enough money to pay for basic living expenses.

As Canadians age and approach the traditional retirement time frame, they anticipate working longer than younger Canadians predict:

  • Canadians in their thirties and forties expect to retire at age 67.
  • In the 60 – 65 age group, the expected retirement age rises to almost 72.

Gender also plays a role in our views of retirement:

  • While just over half (55%) of all men and women expect to be working to some extent past age 65, more men than women expect to be working full time (24% of men vs. 17% of women).
  • Timing for retirement is also different, with men expecting to work almost two years longer until they retire (close to age 69 for men vs. approximately age 67 for women).
  • The reasons for expecting to work past 65 vary by gender. More men than women say they will be working because they want to work (44% for men vs. 34% for women), while women are more likely to anticipate they will need to work (67% for women vs. 57% for men).

“We’ve been tracking attitudes towards retirement through the economic downturn and we’re seeing the new vision of retirement for Canadians depends on factors like how much income they earn and how close they are to retirement,” says the President of Sun Life Financial Canada, Kevin Dougherty. “The good news is that Canadians have options available to increase their confidence in retirement. The results clearly show that Canadians who have a financial plan, an advisor, and an employer-sponsored plan are more confident about their retirement plans and finances.”

The difference a plan makes

The 2011 Canadian Unretirement Index shows that almost eight out of ten Canadians (79%) don’t have a financial plan. However, the survey results also illustrate that Canadians who do have a written financial plan are more:

  • confident about being able to take care of basic living expenses inretirement (84% with a plan vs. 48% without a plan).
  • confident about having enough money to pursue their hobbies andinterests in retirement (73% with a plan vs. 32% without a plan).
  • confident about having enough money to enjoy the lifestyle they want in retirement (71% with vs. 30% without a plan).
  • satisfied with what they’re saving for retirement (67% with vs. 26% without a plan).

The overall Index for the survey shows that Canadians who have a written financial plan are more confident about retirement than those who don’t have a plan (Index = 51 with vs. 37 without), as are those with an advisor (44 with vs. 36 without).

“Creating a financial plan that covers personal and workplace savings, pensions, portfolio diversification, and asset protection, as well as debt reduction and budgeting, can give Canadians peace of mind,” says Dougherty. “We know that when they work with an advisor, it’s easier to see their complete financial picture and take meaningful steps towards reaching their lifestyle goals and realizing their ideal retirement.”

Retirement readiness and financial focus

Other survey results show that the overall Unretirement Index, measuring the confidence of working Canadians, is down significantly from prior years, to 39 in 2011, from 50 in 2008 and 51 in 2009. (The lower the index number, the more negative or pessimistic the outlook is on issues that influence retirement.) Canadians believe they’ll work longer than the traditional retirement age of 65, they’re less confident about their retirement outlook, and they’re concerned about their financial well-being.

The trend is towards less optimism in 2010. One possible reason for the drop in overall confidence is that at the end of 2009, many Canadians were hopeful the recession was over in this country – and that recovery would be swift. While the recession did end, Canada did not witness the extensive economic rebound it had hoped for, with unemployment still high, gross domestic product increasing at low levels, and continued worries about the health of other countries that could impact our economy.

At the same time, survey results show that Canadians are shifting their priorities. Paying down personal loans, credit cards, and other debt moved ahead of saving for housing or retirement and is now the number one financial priority (2010 results vs. 2009 results):

  • pay down personal loan, credit cards, or other debt:  42% vs. 22%
  • save or pay for housing (mortgage, down payment, rent, etc.):  28% vs. 32%
  • save for retirement:  17% vs. 25%
  • save for vacation or other leisure:  8% vs. 10%
  • save or pay for education:  3% vs. 8%.

Across Canada, confidence in retirement savings varies considerably. When asked, “How satisfied are you with how much you are saving for retirement?”, respondents in Ontario and British Columbia are the least optimistic:

  • In Ontario, 27% of respondents answered “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied.”
  • In British Columbia, 28% gave a positive response.
  • Saskatchwan/Manitoba gave the proportionally most positive response (45%), followed by Atlantic Canada (41%), Alberta (37%), and Quebec (33%).

Interestingly, Ontario and British Columbia are also provinces with a low proportion of group retirement coverage (both 41%). Quebec has the lowest proportion, at 39%.

Taking the temperature of Canadians’ overall retirement confidence

This third Sun Life Canadian UnretirementTM Index measures the confidence that Canadian workers have towards issues that influence retirement. The Index is a blend of confidence scores in five sub-indices: Macroeconomics (score = 30), Government Benefits (score = 37), Personal Finance (score = 38), Employer Benefits (score = 29), and Health (score = 62).

The following graphs and charts show year-over-year comparisons and results from this survey:

For more information about the Sun Life Canadian UnretirementTM Index, visit You can also read the White Paper (, a summary of the main results of the 2011 survey.


These are some of the findings of an Ipsos Reid poll conducted between November 24 and December 7, 2010, on behalf of Sun Life Financial.

For this survey, a sample of 3,422 adults from 30 to 65 years of age from Ipsos Reid’s Canadian online panel was interviewed online. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics and ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. With a sample of this size, the results are considered accurate to within +/-1.7 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what the results would have been had the entire population of adults in Canada been polled. The margin of error will be larger within regions and for other sub-groupings of the survey population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to, methodology change, coverage error, and measurement error.

This poll represents the third wave of a study that was previously conducted by telephone with a smaller sample size. In certain questions the magnitude of the differences from prior years’ findings may be a reflection in the change in methodology from telephone to online panels; however, we are confident in the year-over-year trends indicated and find them to be consistent with other research performed by Ipsos Reid on similar issues, recently, by both telephone and online methodologies.

About Sun Life Financial

Sun Life Financial is a leading international financial services organization providing a diverse range of protection and wealth accumulation products and services to individuals and corporate customers. Chartered in 1865, Sun Life Financial and its partners today have operations in key markets worldwide, including Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Japan, Indonesia, India, China and Bermuda. As of December 31, 2010, the Sun Life Financial group of companies had total assets under management of $464 billion. For more information please visit

Sun Life Financial Inc. trades on the Toronto (TSX), New York (NYSE) and Philippine (PSE) stock exchanges under the ticker symbol SLF.

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