The Future of Retirement

Anna Rappaport, FSA, MAAA is a member of the Pension Research Council Advisory Board, and the chairperson of the Society of Actuaries Committee on Post-Retirement Needs and Risks.

In an interesting and ambitious new report on the social, technological, employment, and demographic trends shaping the future of retirement, the Society of Actuaries Research Institute has published a thought-provoking study that will interest plan sponsors, employees, policymakers, and more. The authors focus on “megatrends” that are frequently overlooked when considering how work, retirement, and financial security will evolve. For instance, the analysis explores how the labor market will need to respond to worker shortages, new family structures, overall economic shifts, and technological change. In this blog I highlight some of the topics that piqued my interest.

The Changing Work Environment

Today’s employers must urgently attract and retain employees in the face of declining working-age populations.  Recent developments have included greater acceptance of remote work and hybrid employment arrangements. Today’s employees are more able to change careers and employers, and gig work has offered new opportunities for those who do not want or cannot find traditional jobs.

The employee benefits environment has not kept up.  Many gig workers lack employer-provided benefits, particularly retirement saving, and many employees are not participating in any employer sponsored retirement plan. Over time, as defined benefit (DB) plans declined and defined contribution (DC) plans grew, this increasingly required individual employees to decide how much to save, where to invest, and how to spend the assets during retirement. Unfortunately, much research shows that people often lack the discipline and knowledge to successfully handle this responsibility.

Aging and Family

Population aging has also resulted from longer life spans and hence, longer retirement periods. At the same time, retirement ages have not kept up.  Some people do continue to work longer due to personal choice, better employment options, and/or financial need, but for most people it will be increasingly costly to finance up to 35 years out of the labor force.

In the past, families offered care and support for many seniors needing old age help. Today, however, families and households are very different from a century ago. Fewer people reach retirement while married; blended and LGBTQ+ families are more common; older people have had fewer children than in the past; and ‘solo agers’ are becoming increasingly common. And many adult children and other family members live far away from their older family members needing help.

Economic Shifts

As economic inequality has grown, people are increasingly turning to public programs including Social Security and Medicare for retirement support. These benefits are not only crucial for the poorest elderly; they are also key for the middle class. Seniors are also increasingly challenged to pay for long-term care. Medicaid covers costs of nursing home care for very low income and asset households, and only 10% of the population has private long-term care insurance.

The challenge is that, not only are the employee benefit and insurance markets in a state of flux; public programs for the older population are also facing severe financial challenges. The future of retirement security depends on our ability to sustain these programs in the long term and reshape them to better fit the emerging environment.


People’s willingness to adopt new technologies is increasing impressively quickly, fueled in part by the Covid-19 pandemic. Advances include new wearables helping measure and diagnose health conditions; minimally invasive surgery; remote medical and professional appointments; automated financial transactions; robo-advice; and online communication. In the future, sensors and robots may support caregivers and make it possible for individuals, including those with physical and mental limitations, to remain in their homes longer. Artificial intelligence and virtual reality will continue to revolutionize many professionals’ jobs, replacing and simplifying many of their functions.

At the same time, these developments open the door to a rising incidence of scams and disinformation. Malicious and manipulative artificial intelligence applications will be a rising concern, not only for employers, but also policymakers, regulators, and financial advisors.


These ideas raise enormous and challenging concerns about where and how people will learn, work, live, and retire, and how they will get housing, healthcare, and long-term care in the years to come.  As the report concludes, “[a]ddressing all these systemic issues requires not only sufficient information, but also seeing beyond traditional ideas, systems, institutions, and technologies.” Food for thought, indeed.

Views of our Guest Bloggers are theirs alone, and not of the Pension Research Council, the Wharton School, or the University of Pennsylvania.