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Perceptions of income requirements in retirement

Elderly playing cards
Researchers: Mehul Kotecha
Published: July 2011


We conducted this research to gain greater understanding of how people feel about their retirement finances:

  • what level of income they consider appropriate or adequate;
  • how they determine what is adequate.


Three key components informed the definition of various lifestyles:

  • Security: having the means to deal with bills, financial emergencies and having secure accommodation.
  • Independence: individuals being able to manage their own self care and finances with minimum assistance from the state or family.
  • Choice: having an income to enhance their quality of life (e.g. holidays and other leisure activities).

These three components informed the three categories of lifestyle in retirement identified by people:

  • a ‘basic’ lifestyle lacked financial security and independence;
  • a ‘comfortable’ or adequate lifestyle began at the point of financial security and independence, but included a great deal of variation within it;
  • a ‘wealthy’ lifestyle offered individuals the ability to exercise choice on a much grander scale than a ‘comfortable’ one.

People tended to identify with a ‘comfortable’ lifestyle 

They distanced themselves from both a ‘basic’ (associated with ‘pensioner poverty’) and ‘wealthy’ lifestyle (associated with ‘frivolity’ and ‘extravagance’).

Feelings about their own standard of living were informed by both financial factors and non financial factors.

Financial factors included:

  • Current household income
  • Property ownership and debt (including mortgages)
  • Level of savings

Non- financial factors included:

  • Attitudes towards spending – particularly being able to tailor expectations to income
  • Aspirations in retirement –especially tailoring aspirations to age
  • Health and mobility
  • Social support networks that individuals could draw on

In defining their own lifestyles in retirement, individuals drew on a variety of reference points:

  • the media
  • the situation of others (e.g. family and friends)
  • their own experiences prior to retirement.


Thirty in-depth interviews with older people aged 60-75+ who had been retired for at least two years and had earned between £10,000-£40,000 p.a. in their last main job. 

Read the report