Ask five people what they think retirement means, and you might get five completely different answers.
However, the 2023 Transamerica Retirement Survey indicates that certain hopes are, if not universal, quite common.
The top two retirement dreams for American adults are “traveling” and “spending more time with family and friends.”
The study, from the nonprofit Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, was based on surveys of more than 10,000 adults (age 18 or older) and includes those who are working full or part-time, those looking for work, self-employed or unemployed, as well as students and retirees.
Read on to learn the things that Americans most commonly dream of doing in retirement.
No retirement dreams at all
Sad but true: Of the adults surveyed, 10% say they have no dreams for their retirement. The survey didn’t cite any reasons why.
Pursuing an ‘encore’ career
Share of adults who dream of doing this in retirement: 10%
An encore career is one undertaken later in life. Often, this is pursued for personal as well as financial reasons. For example, someone takes a job that enables them to “give back” or chooses a new career in a field that always interested them. And, of course, some people decide to work in retirement for the extra cash, sense of purpose and social engagement.
Not sure where to get started? “20 Great Part-Time Jobs for Retirees” has ideas you may never have considered.
Continuing to work in the same field
Share of adults who dream of doing this in retirement: 10%
Some 13 million Americans age 65 or older are projected to be in the workforce in 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That’s not surprising: Among other advantages, continuing to work lets you set more money aside for retirement and delay dipping into your retirement accounts. In fact, good arguments can be made as to why you should work for as long as you live.
Starting a business
Share of adults who dream of doing this in retirement: 13%
Some people who dream of working in retirement also want to be their own boss. According to a 2019 report from the Kauffman Foundation, more than 25% of new entrepreneurs were between the ages of 55 and 64.
In fact, many seniors have specific advantages in terms of startups, including — but not limited to — robust credit histories, cash savings, and personal and professional networks. They’re likely to own homes, which can be tapped for equity or used as collateral for small-business loans. What’s more, they can support themselves with Social Security and/or retirement funds while they get their businesses off the ground.
To jump-start your own entrepreneurial dreams, see “Retirement Business Ideas: 12 Ways to Get Started After 50.”
Taking care of grandchildren
Share of adults who dream of doing this in retirement: 19%
One of every four kids under the age of 5 is cared for by a grandparent, according to the National Council on Aging. Sounds ideal, doesn’t it? Elders get loads of time with their beloved grands, and parents can work or go to school feeling secure that their children are cared for and safe.
Child care can be exhausting, though, and sometimes it’s hard to discern the line between offering advice and trampling on parental boundaries. A nonprofit called Zero to Three suggests that grandparents and parents talk in advance about topics like work hours, payment (if any), feeding, naptime, use of technology and limit-setting (aka discipline).
Share of adults who dream of doing this in retirement: 21%
Doing volunteer work doesn’t just keep you busy. It also makes your community a better place.
Maybe you could take on more responsibility in a service organization or place of worship. Or, you might cast an even wider net by teaching adult literacy, leading a 4-H club, becoming a master gardener, building houses with Habitat for Humanity or working at a pet shelter. The list is virtually endless.
As a bonus, giving back to your community is likely to give you something in return: a sense of purpose. Giving back is a common source of purpose for retirees, as we detail in “8 of the Greatest Sources of Fulfillment for Retirees.”
Share of adults who dream of doing this in retirement: 43%
The word “hobby” covers a broad range of activities — indoor or outdoor, solo or group-based, intellectual, athletic or just pure fun.
Some hobbies (yoga, tai chi, swimming) can help reduce physical pain and help you relax.
Geocaching, hiking and birdwatching get you outdoors and are accessible to people of varying energy levels.
A book club gets you reading and discussing. Writing (memoir, poetry, essays or even letters to the editor) lets you share your thoughts with the world. Joining a chess, bridge or Scrabble club keeps your brain synapses firing.
Could you even turn your post-retirement hobby into a moneymaker? Learn more in “21 Hobbies You Can Turn Into a Business.”
Spending more time with family and friends
Share of adults who dream of doing this in retirement: 52%
Retirement means your visits with loved ones will no longer be limited to the vacation time offered by your employer. Now, you can drive or fly to see family or friends near and far whenever you like. You can invite them to visit you, too, since you’ll have the time to be a gracious host.
Don’t rely on loved ones to fill all of your socialization and emotional needs, though. They have lives too. Keep busy in a variety of ways, including those hobbies, volunteer hours, or that encore career or part-time gig.
Share of adults who dream of doing this in retirement: 60%
Maybe the last time you were in Europe you carried a backpack, stayed in hostels and hiked everywhere you went. In retirement, you might want less physical strain and more travel amenities. There are also new health concerns. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advice for older traveling adults.
Fortunately, there are still plenty of ways to enjoy travel. For example, the nonprofit organization Road Scholar creates “learning adventures” via trips all over the world, including in the United States. Toward the end of 2021, Road Scholar reported an uptick in solo senior trips: The number of elders traveling alone was almost 5% higher than usual.