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The retirement gap

Joy Persaud / 27 September 2016 ( 06 September 2019 )

With only 7% of couples retiring at the same time, many people are now finding themselves with a 'retirement gap' of several years.

Retired man
Many people are finding they have a lot of solo retirement time to fill before their partner retires

If you’ve retired but your spouse or partner hasn’t, all that solo free time can be daunting. But the opportunity to do just as you please during these golden years can also be liberating.

A survey carried out by Saga Investment Services found that most retirees don’t sit on their laurels once they’ve hung up their work garb for good. Tackling DIY, housework and gardening are popular ways to spend time. Seventeen per cent of respondents say they babysit for their grandchildren and 13 per cent choose to exercise.

Only 7% of couples retire at the same time, according to those surveyed. The most common reason for a gap, cited by half those asked, was one partner wanting to work for longer; others couldn’t afford to retire at the same time and some had to wait to reach state pension age before retiring.

Retirement was seen by most respondents (83%) as a chance to volunteer or take up a hobby. The activities undertaken ranged from helping out at a chicken factory to becoming a magistrate, playing computer games and singing in choirs. Loneliness was a factor for one in 10 retirees in contrast to the 57% who found the time alone to be beneficial as they awaited their other half to stop work.

Couples who had not yet retired were asked if they thought there would be a retirement ‘gap’ between them, with six years emerging as the average length between the two retiring.

Read our tips on retirement-proofing your relationship

Keeping busy

Len Levoir, 67, retired in 2014 ago. A former employee of BP, he told Saga he was looking forward to retirement, as he felt he had earned it, having worked since he was 18. He made no plans for the first three months of his retirement, after which he took stock.

He says, “I joined a gym, which I go to three or four times a week, I play and practise golf and do any household chores given to me by my wife. I have never felt lonely or bored. Joining a gym opened whole new avenues for me. For those who are less active that need social interaction, there are lots of voluntary opportunities, say, in charity shops, and the like.”

Len says he is looking forward to his wife, Nikki, retiring. He explains that he is at his happiest when they are together. The couple, who live in London, will need to wait several more years before this happens, though, as Nikki is in her fifties.

Nikki admits that she was “very worried” when Len retired, fearing that he would not have enough to keep him occupied.

“How wrong was I…” she reflects. “Len is more relaxed now, as towards the end of his working life, the day to day commute had lost its charm.

“I’m looking forward to retiring. I hope to retire early so Len and I can start to enjoy the next stage of our lives together,” she says. “We love to travel and see the world and when we are not restricted by my annual leave, we have plans to travel far and wide.”

A spokesperson for Saga Investment Services said, “It’s not surprising so many people find themselves retiring without their partner joining them on their new journey after work. While these gaps are caused by historic gulf between state pension ages and earnings differences between genders, our findings suggest that the desire to carry on working is also a motivating factor.

“For those starting to draw an income from their retirement before their partner, it’s important to take into consideration what their pensions may provide for their significant other. Many final salary pensions make a provision for a spouse or civil partner, albeit at a reduced income, but with defined contribution pensions, there are complex decisions to make. Drawing down a flexible income, buying an annuity or even topping up state pensions can have an impact on your partner’s future income.

“For those approaching retirement, professional financial advice will be vital to ensure that both partners’ needs are taken into consideration and appropriately planned for.”


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.