Retirement Roulette

Older workers find themselves caught in a game of retirement roulette as many rely on external factors to be able to afford a comfortable retirement.

  • Retirement prospects hang in the balance as over-50s workers rely on downsizing (25%), an inheritance (24%) or a lottery win (13%) to afford a comfortable retirement.
  • Peak earnings thought to kick in aged 51: although 34% save more during this period, only 12% say they have or would pay more into a pension.
  • A fifth make big purchases (21%) while the same proportion increase everyday spending (20%) during peak earnings period.
  • Older workers’ ability to save is hampered by cost of living (33%) and need/desire to pay off a mortgage (39% of mortgage-holders).
  • More than 2 million over-50s workers say they are yet to take pension saving seriously.

Older workers are finding themselves caught in a game of retirement roulette as many are relying on external factors such as a downsizing, an inheritance or even a lottery win to be able to afford a comfortable retirement, part two of Aviva’s latest Real Retirement Report reveals. A quarter (25%) of over-50s workers are hoping to profit from downsizing to a smaller home or moving to a cheaper area. A similar proportion (24%) are relying on receiving an inheritance to achieve a comfortable standard of living in retirement, which suggests it’s not only younger generations who count on help from family to support their financial needs. 

More than a fifth (22%) are depending on relatives no longer being financially dependent on them – part one of Aviva’s Real Retirement research revealed as many as 1.9 million older workers currently have financially dependent parents or children1. Worryingly, more than one in ten (13%) or 1.3 million2 over-50s workers say they are relying on a lottery win to afford a comfortable retirement, despite the odds of winning the National Lottery being just one in 45 million3 – a sign of their pessimism about their prospects of otherwise being able to retire in comfort.

Pension saving is secondary to big purchases and living costs

As older workers’ financial futures hang in the balance, many are finding they need to put their earnings towards big purchases or everyday spending instead of pension saving.

Over-50s workers say they reached or expect to reach their peak earnings – or the highest amount of income earned during their lifetime – at the age of 51 on average, with this period lasting for an average of 5½ years. This potentially provides a vital window of opportunity for people to boost their pension savings ahead of retirement. Analysis by Aviva shows if a saver was to put away an extra £100 per month into their pension for the full 5½ years of peak earnings from the age of 51, this could translate to a £25,000 boost to their pension pot at retirement4.  

Although a third (34%) of older workers save more during this peak earnings period, a fifth (21%) say they have or would spend it on big one-off purchases such as a new car, kitchen or extension. A similar proportion (20%) have or would spend more on everyday living and enjoying themselves. 

Only 12% say they have or would increase contributions to an existing workplace pension during this time, rising to just 14% among those who expect to retire within the next two years.

Peak earnings All
Save significantly more than before to make the most of having a higher income 34%
Make a big purchase e.g. new car, kitchen, extension etc. 21%
Spend more on everyday living and enjoy myself 20%
Seek professional advice via a financial adviser 13%
Start a private pension scheme 12%
Increase my contributions to an existing workplace pension  12%

The cost of living is a key factor disrupting older workers’ saving plans: with inflation at a five year high, a third (33%) of workers aged 50+ say their ability to save is hampered by having no money left after paying for everyday living costs

Other factors scuppering their ability to save are the need to pay off a mortgage before retirement (felt by 39% of those with a mortgage) and having financially dependent children (18%).

More than 2 million older workers are yet to have taken pension saving seriously

As immediate financial pressures force older workers’ focus away from long-term planning, almost a quarter (22%) or 2.2 million workers aged 50+ say they are yet to take pension saving seriously. In addition, more than two in five have not calculated how much money they will need in retirement (41%) and how much should be saved to afford a comfortable retirement (42%).

Three in five (58%) have not ramped up pension savings in the run up to retirement, including 57% of those aged 60-64 who are close to what was previously the Default Retirement Age. Based on the experience of older workers, those who have taken action to prepare for retirement tend to do so in their late thirties and forties, with pension saving being taken seriously from the age of 39 on average.

  % who have not done this yet Average age* to do this
Become aware of how much I/my employer is saving into my pension 24% 36
Start taking pension saving seriously 22% 39
Calculate how much I need to save to afford a comfortable retirement 42% 45
Calculate how much money I will need in retirement 41% 45
Ramp up pension saving in the run up to retirement 58% 47
*Among over-50s workers who have done this.

Lindsey Rix, Managing Director, Savings and Retirement at Aviva said:

“As everyday financial pressures take their toll on older workers, many are postponing retirement planning and are instead relying on factors other than savings – many of which are outside of their control – to afford a comfortable retirement. Even those options that might seem guaranteed, such as making a profit from selling a home, could pose a challenge should economic or market conditions change.  “Wherever possible, retirement saving shouldn’t be left to chance. Although older workers have multiple demands on their income, taking time to understand what needs to be saved in order to afford a good standard of living in retirement and putting more away each month – no matter how small the increase – can make a big difference.”

  • Download the Real Retirement Report Part 2: Working Beyond 50 - CLICK HERE


Media Enquiries:

Fiona Whytock | 01904 452 659 |

Katy Hurren | 07800 692548 |

Aviva’s spokesperson, Lindsey Rix, is available for comment/broadcast interview


1 Aviva, Retirement plans at risk: Almost 2 million older workers juggle supporting family with own financial future, September 2017

2 ONS Table A05: Labour market by age group: People by economic activity and age (seasonally adjusted). There are 9,969,000 workers aged 50 and above (October 2017).

3 Metro, What are your chances of winning the lottery? August 2017

4 £100 each month for 5.5 years amounts to £6,600. The boost of a matching employer contribution could deliver approx. £17,000 at the end of the 5.5 year period. Assuming this £17,000 stays invested for a subsequent decade until retirement at age 66, this could amount to £25,000 at retirement. This calculation assumes the person is on average earnings and receives the basic rate of pension tax relief on their savings. It is assumed the savings grow at a net rate of 2.4% each year after inflation and charges.

The Real Retirement Report is designed and produced by Aviva in consultation with ICM Research and Instinctif Partners. The Real Retirement tracking series has been running since 2010 and totals 29,568 interviews among the population over the age of 55 years, including 1,177 in July 2017 for the latest wave of tracking data (Q2 2017). This edition examines data from 3,327 UK adults aged 50 and over, of whom 1,829 are still working. 

Technical notes:

  • A median is described as the numeric value separating the upper half of a sample, a population, or a probability distribution, from the lower half. Thus for this report, the median is the person who is the utter middle of a sample. All figures are medians unless otherwise specified and are referred to as ‘typical’ rather than ‘average’ (mean).
  • A mean is a single value that is derived by adding all the values on a list together and then dividing by the number of items on said list. This can be skewed by particularly high or low values.

Notes to editors: 

  • Aviva provides life insurance, general insurance, health insurance and asset management to 33 million customers. In the UK we are the leading insurer serving one in every four households and have strong businesses in selected markets in Europe, Asia and Canada. 
  • Our shares are listed on the London Stock Exchange and we are a member of the FTSE100 index.   
  • Aviva’s asset management business, Aviva Investors, provides asset management services to both Aviva and external clients, and currently manages over £340 billion in assets. Total group assets under management at Aviva group are £450 billion. 
  • Aviva helps people save for the future and manage the risks of everyday life; we paid out £34.4 billion in benefits and claims in 2016. By serving our customers well, we are building a business which is strong and sustainable, which our people are proud to work for, and which makes a positive contribution to society. 
  • The Aviva media centre at includes company information, images, and a news release archive. 
  • For an introduction to what we do and how we do it, please click here
  • Follow us on twitter: and follow us on LinkedIn:
  • For the latest corporate films from around our business, subscribe to our YouTube channel:
  • We have a Globelynx system for broadcast interviews. Please contact the Press Officer noted above if you would like to make a booking.