Putting the Pandemic in Perspective: Majority of Americans Agree Economic Impact Will Be More Significant Than Great Recession

Allianz Life 2021 Retirement Risk Readiness Study finds greater concern over pandemic’s effect on finances, troubling rise in earlier-than-expected retirements

Key Findings:

  • Nearly seven in 10 (69%) Americans (age 21+ in 2007) believe the COVID-19 pandemic will have a greater overall economic impact than the Great Recession (2007-2009).

  • More than two-thirds (68%) of retired respondents said they retired earlier than expected, up from 50% in 2020 – with the majority doing so for reasons beyond their control.

  • Almost two-thirds (65%) said they are now paying more attention to what they are saving and spending.

MINNEAPOLIS – Feb. 24, 2021 – As Americans continue to grapple with many aspects of COVID-19, the vast majority believe the pandemic’s impact will be more significant than the Great Recession for both the economy and their own finances, according to the new 2021 Retirement Risk Readiness Study from Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America (Allianz Life).

Nearly seven in 10 (69%) Americans (age 21+ in 2007) said they believe the COVID-19 pandemic will have a greater overall economic impact than the Great Recession (2007-2009), with retired respondents feeling most adamant (86%, versus 69% for near-retired and 68% for pre-retired). Furthermore, over half of all respondents (56%) said the pandemic will also have a greater impact than the Great Recession on their personal finances.

Accordingly, the majority of Americans are feeling greater anxiety than they did after the Great Recession in relation to a variety of topics, including:


 Great Recession 


 Nervousness about your day-to-day finances



 Nervousness about your retirement savings



 Your professional career



 How you think about saving and spending money



 How you think about managing market risk when saving for retirement 



“Although the full story of this pandemic won’t be known for some time, it’s clear that the financial security of many Americans has been severely compromised,” said Kelly LaVigne, vice president of Consumer Insights, Allianz Life. “It is notable that so many people are concerned about both the short-term and long-term financial effects of this crisis. It’s crucial that Americans use this opportunity to consider any new risks that could affect their retirement planning and develop strategies to help mitigate those risks and future unexpected events.”

Trend toward unexpected retirement continues

The 2021 Retirement Risk Readiness Study surveyed three categories of Americans to get different perspectives on retirement: pre-retirees (those 10 years or more from retirement); near-retirees (those within 10 years of retirement); and those who are already retired. In addition to confirming the significant financial strain being caused by the pandemic, the 2021 study reinforced findings from 2020 that revealed most Americans are unprepared for the risk of an earlier-than-expected retirement.

More than two-thirds of respondents (68%) said they retired earlier than expected, up significantly from the 50% who acknowledged earlier-than-expected retirement in last year’s study. Similar to 2020, the majority said they had to retire for reasons outside of their control, including healthcare issues (33%, up from 25% in 2020) and unexpected job loss (22%, down from 34% in 2020). Early retirement may put them at greater risk given that more than four in 10 (43%) Americans said they are unable to put away anything for retirement right now (up from 37% in 2020), and a similar amount (42%) feel that they are too far behind on their retirement goals to catch up (up from 31% in 2020).

Unfortunately, Americans continue to have unrealistic expectations when it comes to managing an early end to their employment via working in retirement. A full 70% of non-retirees think it is likely they will work at least part time in retirement, up from 65% in 2020. Yet, when asked if they actually are working at least part time in retirement, even fewer retired respondents verified that claim – only 6%, nearly equal to the 7% reported in 2020.

In fact, the closer people are to retirement, the less enthusiastic they are about the idea of extending their employment. When asked if they would rather retire at age 55 and have their basic expenses covered in retirement or work until age 75 and live more extravagantly in retirement, less than a quarter (23%) of retirees said they would prefer to work longer (versus 32% of near-retirees and 48% of pre-retirees).

Pandemic silver linings for retirement planning

It’s clear that the pandemic has caused financial strain, as nearly half (49%) of all respondents said they can’t even think about saving for retirement now because they are just trying to get by day-to-day and 56% said that stock market swings are making them nervous about their retirement savings. However, there are signs of hope, as almost two-thirds (65%) said they are now paying more attention to what they are saving and spending, and nearly six in ten (58%) have cut back on their spending.

Furthermore, the pandemic has motivated those nearest to retirement to review their current retirement planning activity compared to last year before the pandemic began. These near-retirees are more active in pursuing a variety of strategies, including: saving enough in a retirement account (29% versus 23% in 2020); diversifying their retirement savings (42% versus 27% in 2020); researching expenses and risks associated with retirement (43% versus 35% in 2020); making a formal plan with a financial professional (37% versus 29% in 2020); and purchasing a product that provides a guaranteed source of retirement income (38% versus 30% in 2020).

“Black swan events like this global pandemic are often the trigger that convinces people they need to take a more proactive approach to managing risks that may come in retirement,” added LaVigne. “In that respect, it is encouraging to see that many Americans are taking this as a wake-up call and adding more risk management measures, including sources of guaranteed and supplemental retirement income, into their retirement planning process.”

*Allianz Life conducted an online survey, the 2021 Retirement Risk Readiness Study, in December 2020 with a nationally representative sample of 1,000 individuals age 25+ in the contiguous U.S. with an annual household income of $50k+ (single) / $75k+ (married/partnered) OR investable assets of $150k.

About Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America

Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, one of the FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For® and one of the Ethisphere World’s Most Ethical Companies®, has been keeping its promises since 1896 by helping Americans achieve their retirement income and protection goals with a variety of annuity and life insurance products. In 2020, Allianz Life provided additional value to its policyholders via distributions of more than $10.1 billion. As a leading provider of fixed index annuities, Allianz Life is part of Allianz SE, a global leader in the financial services industry with approximately 150,000 employees in more than 70 countries. Allianz Life is a proud sponsor of Allianz Field® in St. Paul, Minnesota, home of Major League Soccer’s Minnesota United.