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Study: Almost Half of Americans Die Poor

A recent study found that nearly half of all Americans live comfortable lives during retirement but die with little money in the bank.

According to the nonprofit National Bureau of Economic Research, 46 percent of retired Americans die with $10,000 or less in savings. But they have a relatively high standard of living because of generous pension plans and Social Security, the study found.

James Poterba, an economics professor who co-authored the study, said this survey makes it easy to extrapolate differing opinions about how America’s retired elderly are fairing financially.

“You can’t generalize that the elderly are not doing very well financially or that the elderly are doing fine. There is a lot of variation within the group,” Poterba said.

Measured at Retirement, at Death

The study tracked seniors, age 70 and older, from 1993 to 2008 and grouped them by marital status. The groups were always single, married at the start of retirement but single by death and married until death.

Of all these groups, those who were married at the time of retirement but died single fared better financially than the other groups. These individually typically had a median annual wealth of $600,000. Poterba said that the wealth is partially due to a having two retired earners who are both drawing pensions and collecting Social Security benefits. This allows for more of a financial cushion.

Conversely, single seniors were most likely to be poor with limited assets; many lived on less than $20,000 annually and died with less than $10,000 in the bank, the study said.

The study also found that those who had greater wealth lived longer. This could be because those with more money have greater access to healthcare and are more likely to see a doctor. Those who are poor are more likely to put off seeing a physician until a serious illness.

At the same time, an different survey found that more than one third of Americans near retirement age said that they don’t expect to retire any time soon. Many said it’s simply because they can’t afford it.

More Work Years Likely

According to a survey from the Society of Actuaries, many of these pre-retirees, as they are called, said one reason they want to continue working is that they want to stay active and engaged. However, a larger reason is that they cannot afford to retire.

The survey found that half of the current retirees reported that they retired before age 60, but only about one in 10 pre-retirees plan to retire that early. Those pre-retirees instead said they will wait until age 65 or older.

“Current trends in retirement indicate that people may need to work longer than they originally planned,” a retirement expert said. “In fact, many people are just guessing about how much money they will need in retirement.”

In addition, many current retirees end up returning to the work force. Some said they started a small business, while others ended up using an entirely new skill set in their post-retirement employment.

Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it in 2012, helping birth into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering the high finance world of college and professional sports for major publications, including the Associated Press, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. His interest in sports has waned some, but he is as passionate as ever about not reaching for his wallet. Bill can be reached at [email protected].

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    1. Carrns, A. (2012, August 29). Postponing Retirement Indefinitely. New York Times. Retrieved from
    2. Dizikes, P. Study: (2012, August 29) Many Americans Die With ‘Virtually No Financial Assets. MIT News. Retrieved from