Family Structure Shapes Mid-Life Retirement Planning, Income and Security

Planning for retirement is tougher and more complicated for middle-aged Americans who are single or married with children from previous relationships than it is for those with "traditional" families. According to the MetLife Mature Market Institute’s Family Matters study, 40 to 65-year-olds with non-traditional families face more challenges with regard to saving and investing and are less likely than others to have a distinct retirement vision. They are more unlikely to have specific income vehicles, such as 401(k)’s, pension plans and annuities.

The study determined that family structure largely influences how people plan for retirement. It addressed three specific mid-life segments: "Traditional Families" (two parents with children from their current relationship), "Blended Families" (two parents with at least one child from a previous relationship) and "Single Women" (widowed, divorced or never-married with or without children).

"There has been a great deal of attention paid to the role gender plays in retirement planning, but family structure is also critical and often overlooked. This research shows that retirement planning for people in mid-life is strongly influenced by family dynamics. We should not be ignoring how former spouses, stepchildren and having no children influence savings and income for retirement as well as estate planning," notes Sandra Timmermann, director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute.

"Today’s middle-aged Americans are seeking ways to make their income last a lifetime and tools to support their goals. They are looking for professional planning and financial products for "families like theirs," not just generic advice," Timmermann added.

Among the survey’s major findings:

Blended Families and Single Women Report a Significant Disadvantage in Retirement Planning

  • Nearly seven out of ten (66%) Traditional Families feel at least somewhat prepared for retirement, compared with 56% of Blended Families and only 40% of Single Women. A majority of Traditional Families (55%) have a clear idea of what they hope to experience when they retire, compared with only 38% of Single Women and 48% of Blended Families.
  • Nearly two-thirds (62%) of Single Women and Blended Families (61%) say it’s significantly more difficult for them to save for retirement.
  • Only 29% of Blended Families and 21% of Single Women consistently contribute to their retirement accounts, compared to 41% of Traditional Families.
  • Single Women and Blended Families are more likely than their peers to say they know they should be saving more, but don’t know where to start – or that other expenses get in the way.
  • Fewer than half (42%) of Single Women own 401(k)’s, compared with 58% of Blended Families and 70% of Traditional Families. (As one single woman noted, many single women with children work part time and there are few employers who set up 401(k)’s for part time workers.) Forty-four percent of Traditional Families have pension plans and 17% have annuities, while Blended Families have 41% and 15%, respectively; Single Woman have 26% and 11%.
  • Roughly one in five Blended Families and Single Women (19% and 18%, respectively) are concerned that they don’t have safeguards to ensure that an ex-spouse will not lay claim to their income or savings meant for themselves or their children.

Single Women Report Specific Challenges 

  • Single Women say they lack the safety net of a second income that their married peers have. "Because I am a widow, I do not have the buffer of a second income" is a sentiment shared by many single female respondents. They are, therefore, more worried (38% vs. 27% of Blended Families and 23% of Traditional Families) that they will not have a set level of monthly income to last through their retirement.
  • Among survey respondents who are working, Single Women are more likely than their married counterparts to be working only part-time. While roughly half (55%) of the entire group report full-time employment, Single Women make up the greatest share of those working part-time (26%) with the rest split evenly between Blended Families (12%) and Traditional Families (12%).
  • Two-thirds (65%) of Single Women say they do not have a good idea of how much annual income they will need to fund the their retirement, compared with roughly half of their Traditional and Blended Family counterparts (48% and 54%, respectively).
  • 25% of Single Women do not own retirement savings/investment vehicles, almost twice that of Blended Families (13%) and three times that of Traditional Families (8%).

Some Concerns Transcend Family Structure 
Healthcare is a critical issue for all in the survey group. Roughly two-thirds (63%) of Traditional Families do not expect to have enough money to cover healthcare costs in retirement, as is the case with 69% of Single Women and 66% of Blended Families.

Of the entire group surveyed, almost half (47%) identify a need for more savings and assets; 29% would like a better gauge of both their routine and unpredictable retirement expenses.

"Retirement income and healthcare costs are universal concerns," notes Timmermann. "The challenge for those in middle age is to make the unpredictable elements in their lives – the current and future needs of their children, the assets or income that go to an ex-spouse, their own healthcare and other costs – more manageable. More security with regard to income and assets would be of great help to them as they transition into retirement."

401(k) Plans are seen as Primary Source of Income over Social Security 
Defined contribution plans, such as 401k’s and 403b’s, ranked first as the vehicle likely to be the primary source of retirement income. One father in a Blended Family said, "We try to save and I do have a 401k through my employer. However with Social Security in its current state I can only hope that I can put enough into my 401k to supplement what the government will pay out." Social Security ranked second in this area.

Help Wanted for ‘Families Like Mine’ 
A significant portion of all families report a desire for financial advice tailored to their specific needs. The majority of Single Women (51%) long for retirement advice and tools designed for them. Forty-five percent of Traditional Families and 43% of Blended Families concur. As one Blended Family respondent noted,"There is a lot to plan long should I work, how much to save, how much to help my children vs. help myself and my future so my children are not taking care of me." 

The MetLife Mature Market Institute Family Matters study was conducted during the fourth quarter of 2007 and was fielded by RTi Research. The online study polled 1,584 Americans, age 40 to 65, including a mix of men and women drawn from a diverse pool of ethnic backgrounds. The respondents were segmented to include a representative group from three unique family structures – 621 men and women from "Traditional Families" (families with two parents and children only from their current relationship), 653 men and women from "Blended Families" (families with two parents and at least one child from previous a relationship) and 310 "Single Women" (widowed, divorced or never-married women with or without children).

About the MetLife Mature Market Institute 
Staffed by gerontologists, the MetLife Mature Market Institute, part of the company’s Retirement Strategies Group, has been providing research, knowledge management, education, and policy support for over ten years to Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, its corporate customers, and business partners. MetLife is a subsidiary of MetLife, Inc. (NYSE: MET), a leading provider of insurance and financial services to individual and institutional customers.

For an executive summary of the MetLife Family Matters study, please write to the MetLife Mature Market Institute, 57 Greens Farms Road, Westport, CT 06880, call (203) 221-6580 or e-mail: The executive summary can also be accessed online at under ‘What’s New.’


Christine Bonney