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Gearing up for retirement

Evidence type: Insight i


Workers in their 50s and 60s, who are approaching retirement age, face a different set of retirement income challenges from those of their parents’ generation. A shift from defined benefit (DB) pension arrangements to defined contribution (DC) schemes, automatic enrolment, a changing labour market and more flexible pension drawdown choices have changed the landscape for retirement decision-making. It has become more difficult for people to estimate their overall pension wealth and make clear decisions about what to do with their retirement savings.

Nest Insight’s ‘rigorous, cutting-edge’ research programme is funded by several partners, including its strategic partners BlackRock and Invesco. This is the third in a series of three Nest Insight reports which have explored practical and simple ways to support the widest range of people in later working life to plan and prepare for retirement better.

The study

Compared with previous reports, which considered how to encourage workplace pension saving more generally and the role of messages to encourage people in their 30s and 40s to save for retirement, this report considers if carefully designed messages can help people in their 50s and 60s to start making plans for a well-prepared retirement. The focus was on finding practical, simple solutions that could make a difference to the widest possible range of people in later working life.

The study, which was undertaken by Invesco, Nest Insight and maslansky+partners, asked two research questions:

  • How do people approaching retirement understand and talk about the retirement options they have and what are the awareness and comprehension barriers to engagement, action and confidence?
  • How can language and message framing help people to understand their options at key thresholds in the run up to retirement, supporting them to take meaningful actions that lay the groundwork for good decision making and optimisation of retirement savings?

The 2022 study used an iterative, wholly online, mixed-methods approach which encompassed: qualitative interviews with 11 industry experts; qualitative interviews with eight Nest pension members; four qualitative discussion groups with 29 UK pension savers; and quantitative surveys with 1,500 UK DC pension savers aged 50 to 66 with individual incomes of between £10,000 and £60,000 who had low to moderate levels of engagement with their pension. The study culminated in the design, testing (in the quantitative surveys) and refinement of messages to influence people’s readiness to take steps towards seeking advice, checking their pension entitlements, planning key dates for retirement and how work might change.

Key findings

  • Barriers to preparing for retirement: The study identified four key barriers and challenges among savers in their 50s and 60s:
    • Affordability of saving more into a pension and/or retiring (reported by 49% of all).
    • Too many things to think about around retirement (reported by between 22% and 33% by age group).
    • Knowing what steps to take towards retirement planning (reported by between 17% and 28% by age group).
    • Believing it is too late to make a difference to retirement outcomes (reported by between 24% and 40% by age group).
    • The barriers generally reduced with increasing age.
  • Levels of engagement: Only 8% of people in their 50s and early 60s had had spoken to a free pensions advice service or to a financial advisor and 19% had used an online calculator to work out their retirement income. People do not feel well connected to the savings in their DC pensions.
  • Key messages: Key messages which can make a meaningful difference to people’s retirement intentions and outlook fall into four themes: ‘You’re in control’; ‘Think forward to an income’; ‘Start simple and take gradual steps’; and ‘Talk to someone’. Testing of messages from within these themes improved people’s reported intentions, including:
    • plans to speak free pensions advice service or a financial advisor;
    • plans to use online tools and resources such as calculators and forums;
    • rethinking retirement age; and
    • withdrawing their pensions as soon as possible.

Points to consider

  • Methodological strengths/weaknesses: The survey sampling methodology is not described, and the report does not directly assess the representativeness of the sample.
    • While reported differences between survey groups are sometimes reported as being significant, there is no evidence from the main report or the technical report (linked to from page 19) that these differences have been subject to statistical significance testing.
    • There is a question around the ecological validity from findings from the survey testing of messages, whereby improvements in intentions to act identified might not translate into behaviours in all instances.
  • Applicability: Because of the focus in the quantitative research on pensions savers with low to moderate engagement with their pensions, the key-messages learning may not apply well to those who are much more highly engaged.
  • Generalisability/transferability: The lack of detailed sampling methodology makes it difficult to assess how generalisable the findings are to the population the sample was drawn from.
    • The report does not explain how members of the Nest panel (which was used for selecting participants to the qualitative research elements with pension savers) were recruited. Self-selection into the panel would tend to reduce how well the findings from these elements can be generalised to other Nest members. Note that Nest members are members of the workplace saving scheme provided by NEST Corporation, which is a public corporation of the UK Government’s Department for Work and Pensions.

Key info

Client group
Year of publication
United Kingdom
Contact information

Matthew Blakstad, Annick Kuipers and Jo Phillips, Nest Insight, London, nestinsight.org.uk