It's like a "Not-So-Newlywed Game," but the questions are serious rather than risque and the answers are not at all funny.
"The Newlywed Game," an American pop-culture icon, was a decades-long television game show in which newly-married husbands and wives were asked the same questions separately and earned points if they gave the same answer (anything from their favorite type of dental floss to the frequency, location and intensity of their amorous encounters).
Disagreements among the couples often proved hilarious, although they sometimes led to fights on the air and, in some documented cases, divorce.
Today, we're not talking about a game show but about a novel study showing a serious lack of communication among couples. Asked basic questions about their personal retirement planning, high percentages of husbands and wives gave conflicting answers.
"We decided to conduct this study with couples to see whether in fact they were working together," said Steven P. Akin, an executive with Fidelity Investments, which sponsored a survey the company believes is the first of its kind.
"The results were actually quite surprising," Akin said. "Given how close many of these couples are to retirement, they had yet to sit down to discuss and agree on basic retirement goals, aspirations and income sources with each other."
The survey, conducted online by the independent firm Richard Day Research, was based on responses from 502 married couples in which at least one spouse is still working full-time and planning to retire from that job. On average, the husbands were 54 years old and the wives 53, and they had been married 24 years.
But despite being together that long on average:
- More than two out of five couples give different answers on whether at least one of the spouses plans to continue to work in retirement.
- More than a third did not know when their spouse plans to retire.
- More than a third expect different standards of living in retirement.
"As you can see, several of these questions were fairly basic," said Akin, president of Fidelity Personal Investments. " Even when asked straightforward questions, many could not agree."
- Nearly two in five give different figures for the amount of life insurance they have (no attempt was made in the survey to determine which of the figures given – if any – was correct).
- More than one in five couldn't even agree on whether they have a paid professional adviser helping them plan their retirement (how is that for lack of communication?).
- And more than half, or 58 percent, did not identify correctly the person their spouse would contact for financial guidance if they died first.
In addition, many couples gave conflicting answers and showed a general lack of understanding of how much income they could draw and when from pensions, annuities, Social Security and retirement accounts.
"It is important in preparing for retirement to fully understand the specifics around your guaranteed income sources, and what this study shows is that there's still significant confusion," said Jon J. Skillman, president of Fidelity Investments Life Insurance Company.
The more husbands and wives talk to each other about these matters, the less confusion there is. But only 38 percent of couples said they make joint long-term financial decisions for retirement, and a mere 23 percent partner for both long-term and day-to-day planning. Notably, the survey showed these couples are both more optimistic about their retirement prospects and also better prepared, and don't disagree so much in their answers.
"What this survey clearly shows is that it is important to communicate about these things," Skillman said. "The important message is that joint understanding and planning is linked to retirement success." One online tool we like to help you assess your retirement readiness is Fidelity's "myPlan" at www.fidelity.com/myPlan.
Humberto and Georgina Cruz are a husband-and-wife writing team who work together in this column and communicate about their retirement plans. Send questions and comments to AskHumberto@aol.com.