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New study: People living longer in retirement, signals need for lifetime income strategies

Guaranteed income strategies have emerged as underutilized methods to not only help people save for retirement but also provide a stream of income to sustain them during potentially longer life spans. The new study from the Longevity Project in collaboration with Principal Financial Group® and the Stanford Center on Longevity, explores the implications of longevity in retirement and potential policy and industry recommendations. According to the white paper, Lifetime Income to Support Longer Life: Retirement Innovation and the New Age of Longevity, people entering retirement tend to either overspend and withdraw funds at unsustainable rates, or they underspend, denying themselves basic needs because they’re afraid of running out of money.1

“There’s been a significant improvement in life expectancy over time,” said Sri Reddy, senior vice president, Retirement and Income Solutions at Principal®. “At the same time, many retirees are significantly underestimating how many years they’ll spend in retirement. This uncertainty, combined with variables including declining pension benefits and rising costs, can make it difficult to plan for spending one’s assets in retirement.”

The average American turning age 65 today can expect to live 40% longer than someone who turned 65 in 1950.2 Furthermore, the number of Americans retiring every day has more than doubled over the last 20 years.3

“While helping Americans save enough for retirement must continue to be a critical priority, our research points to the next frontier for retirement—helping Americans spend their retirement savings in a sensible, measured way,” said Ken Stern, chair of the Longevity Project. “Income annuities have emerged as a viable and immediately realizable vehicle to help many Americans generate guaranteed lifetime income. However, expanding the role of guaranteed lifetime income will require a concerted effort to educate consumers.”

Solving the puzzle of longer life and longer retirement

According to a Longevity Project – Morning Consult poll featured in the study, only a small percentage of retirees and pre-retirees (7%) are counting on annuities to be an important part of their retirement portfolio. This compares to much higher reliance on Social Security benefits (64%), personal savings and investments (38%), and 401(k) or 403(b) plans offered by employers (35%). The new white paper attributes these low adoption rate to several factors:

  • Consumers may not see income annuities as simple or easy to understand. Variable annuities and indexed annuities have a reputation of being more complex and sometimes more expensive.
  • Consumers don’t want to “lose” money by putting it in an annuity and possibly dying before getting their money back. They may value access to their money over the promise of not running out of money.
  • Financial professionals are still warming up to annuities. Some may lack understanding of how annuities work and may not position them with clients.
  • Retirement plan sponsors are the gatekeepers of America’s defined contribution plans—the retirement savings vehicle for millions of Americans. Since very few plans currently offer guaranteed lifetime income options in their plan’s lineup, people may just not be familiar with them.

Product innovations such as automatic enrollment and automatic escalation and the growth of target date funds have helped many Americans to save for retirement. But at retirement, many find themselves in a financial world with little to guide them on how to spend down their retirement savings, facing a wide variety of complicated decisions and few ways to protect themselves financially if their retirement lasts longer than average. These factors underscore the value of working with financial professionals.

“With the passage of the SECURE Act last year, we took an important first step towards creating a framework for guaranteed retirement income solutions,” said Reddy. “This study shows us there is a real need for industry, plan sponsors, financial professionals and policy makers to collaborate at new levels to increase access to lower-cost income annuities and similar lifetime income solutions so American workers may have a more secure retirement and more confidence that they will not outlive their resources.”

As a part of its continued commitment to promote financial security, Principal works with financial professionals to provide the resources employers need to help workers prepare for retirement. Now more than ever, it is important to help people develop a plan that supports them feeling confident about the future — and guaranteed income is a key strategy that can aid in that effort. Principal has an innovative in-plan solution that provides guaranteed income for the rest of the plan participant’s life, which is even more valuable as people live longer than previous generations and spend more years in retirement.

About Principal®

Principal helps people and companies around the world build, protect and advance their financial well-being through retirement, insurance and asset management solutions that fit their lives. Our employees are passionate about helping clients of all income and portfolio sizes achieve their goals – offering innovative ideas, investment expertise and real-life solutions to make financial progress possible. To find out more, visit us at

About the Longevity Project

We foster research and public conversation to build awareness of the implications of longer life, and bring together leaders from business, government, and the social sector to plan for the transitions in healthcare, retirement planning, the future of work and more. Together with our lead content collaborator, the Stanford Center on Longevity and other leading universities, think tanks and media organizations, our goal is to support a new awareness of the longevity challenge and support change so that people around the world can live healthier, more secure and more fulfilled lives.

The subject matter in this communication is educational only and provided with the understanding that Principal® is not rendering legal, accounting, investment advice or tax advice. You should consult with appropriate counsel or other advisors on all matters pertaining to legal, tax, investment or accounting obligations and requirements.
Stanford Center is not an affiliate of any company of the Principal Financial Group.

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Not Insured by the FDIC or Any Federal Government Agency

Not a Deposit or Other Obligation of, or Guaranteed by, A Bank or Any Bank Affiliate

Subject to Investment Risks, Including Possible Loss of the Principal Amount Invested

Guarantees are based upon the claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company.

©2020 Principal Financial Services, Inc. Insurance products issued by Principal National Life Insurance Co (except in NY) and Principal Life Insurance Co. Plan administrative services offered by Principal Life. Principal Funds, Inc. is distributed by Principal Funds Distributor, Inc. Securities offered through Principal Securities, Inc., 800-247-1737, member SIPC and/or independent broker/-dealers. Referenced companies are members of the Principal Financial Group®, Des Moines, IA 50392.
Principal, Principal and symbol design and Principal Financial Group are trademarks and service marks of Principal Financial Services, Inc., a member of the Principal Financial Group.
© 2020 Principal Financial Services, Inc.

1 Longevity Project interview with Steve Vernon, March 6, 2020

2 The Longevity Project in collaboration with Principal Financial Group and the Stanford Center on Longevity. The Lifetime Income to Support Longer Life: Retirement Innovation and the New Age of Longevity white paper, 2020.

3 U.S. Census Bureau / Deutsche Bank


Lonnetta Ragland,, 515-878-1504

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