Future retirement journeys will be driven by complex family structures

A new group of retirees are emerging, and set to grow over the next 15 years, new research from Canada Life today reveals1. Complex Families, Complex Finances are a group of retirees whose family situation complicates their financial needs and planning. They currently account for a third of the market but are expected to be the largest group in the retirement market by 2035.


The growth of this group is being driven by socioeconomic factors such as getting married or divorced later in life and paying for the cost of care. These shifts are triggering a significant change in how consumers plan for, and live during their retirement years, and will represent an opportunity for advisers to truly tailor the advice they give.


The research, carried out in conjunction with strategic trends forecasting agency, Trajectory, found that the increasingly complex family demands on finances is what characterises this group and impacts their retirement savings:


  • Increasing divorce rates among the over 40s have caused a massive increase in single person households among this group,2 with the average cost associated with divorce legal fees and lifestyle changes standing at £15,0003
  • Single person households spend at least 5% more of their disposable income on bills and basics and 12% more if they are renting or still have a mortgage4
  • Millennials today will spend an average of £53,000 on rent by the age of 30, compared to just £9,000 for Baby Boomers5, significantly impacting the amount they can save for retirement
  • First marriages are less common and now more spread out through life. The average age of first marriage is now 34 among men and 32 among women – both four years older than twenty years ago6
  • More women over 40 give birth each year than those under 207 - meaning that there will be a growing number of Complex Families who are supporting their children much later in life
  • The Covid-19 pandemic also saw significant numbers of young people returning to their family homes, which has had implications on household spending as well as opportunity to downsize


Paul Flatters, Co-Founder and CEO, Trajectory, said: “As social norms are changing, so too is the shape of retirement. More people are now getting married and divorced later in life, boomerang children are disrupting later-life spending, and those approaching retirement are often caring for elderly parents as well. This all inevitably has an impact on this group’s ability to accumulate wealth - and the time they have to save for retirement - which is affecting their retirement lifestyles. As these trends accelerate, the growth of this group will too.”


Sean Christian, MD and Executive Director, Wealth Management Division of Canada Life’s Wealth Division, said: “With this group of retirees set to grow, advisers need to be aware of how socioeconomic factors are changing the retirement landscape. As these trends continue to evolve, the advice industry must ensure it’s on the front foot and constantly considering how these complex retirement journeys will shift the type of support and guidance they offer clients, which will need to be tailored to their individual circumstances.”


  1. This research was conducted in partnership with Trajectory, a strategic futures consultancy. It uses horizon scanning to identify the key trends shaping retirement now and in the future (to 2035), to identify a series of new models of retirement or journeys through later life. Horizon scanning is an approach to analysing the future that considers how emerging trends and developments might potentially affect current policy and practice. The research draws on a wide range of data sources and analyses including several ONS surveys (e.g. The Wealth and Assets Survey and ONS Consumer Trends). Other trend evidence was taken from published materials from a wide range of academics and think tanks, as well as Trajectory's own data sources. We analysed data from the UK's Understanding Society Surveys (the world leading longitudinal survey run by The University of Essex) to identify trends in the numbers of people following the different later life journeys and to identify their current size. This was supported by research among 2,000 UK adults, 28th Aug - 1st Sept, 2020, conducted by Opinium Research.
  2. ONS, 2017 https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/families/adhocs/11520numberofhouseholdsbyhouseholdsizeandageofhouseholdreferencepersonhrpenglishregionsandukconstituentcountries2019
  3. Money Advice Service, 2018 https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/blog/how-much-does-a-divorce-cost
  4. ONS, 2018 https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/families/articles/thecostoflivingalone/2019-04-04
  5. The Resolution Foundation, 2016 https://www.resolutionfoundation.org/app/uploads/2018/05/A-New-Generational-Contract-Full-PDF.pdf
  6. ONS, 2017 https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/divorce/datasets/divorcesinenglandandwales
  7. ONS, 2019 https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/livebirths/datasets/birthsbyparentscharacteristics