The release of our seventh annual Sun Life Canadian Unretirement Index a couple of weeks back made news across the country. The story journalists picked up primarily was that for the first time since we began collecting data in 2008, the percentage of Canadians who expect to be fully employed at 66 has grown higher than the percentage who expect to be fully retired (32% vs. 27%).

There is more to the story, of course. In important ways, Canadians are less anxious about their retirement plans. It’s important not to overstate this; many of us remain genuinely worried about our financial future. But on key questions, respondents are significantly more positive in their outlook than they were in 2010 and 2011.

Average expected retirement age - chart

Three examples:

1. Canadians, on average, expect to retire before 65

There is no single result that better reflects just how pessimistic we became after the economic crisis, and how our attitudes have returned to more normal levels. In 2010, Canadians told us they didn’t expect to retire until they were 68 on average. A year later, that number rose even higher, to 69. It’s been falling steadily since. This year’s result of 64 is the first time we’ve seen a number below 65 since 2009.

2. Among those who expect to work at 66, more say it’ll be by choice

Our original hypothesis with this study was that baby boomers would work past 65 for lifestyle reasons. Many of them enjoy what they do, and they recognize the financial and health benefits that come with staying in the workforce. But after the crisis, it was clear from our study that very many Canadians were planning to work at 66 by necessity. Last year, two-thirds (66%) said they’d work at 66 because they “need to.” This year’s split is less dramatic: 59% will work because they “need to;” 41% because they “want to.”

3. More than four in 10 are satisfied with their retirement savings

One in 10 (11%) told us they are “very satisfied” and another 33% are “somewhat satisfied.” That’s up from 38% who were either very or somewhat satisfied last year and just 33% who said the same in 2012.

You might wonder why our results were as positive as they were in 2008 and 2009. We were in-field for the first time in December 2008, at a time when few Canadians recognized the gravity of what was happening in global financial markets. And a year later, the mood across this country was surprisingly positive. The recession that followed the crisis in Canada was mild in comparison to recent downturns, and there was a lot of good news being reported about the relative stability of our financial system. It was not until 2010 that large numbers of Canadians came to recognize that the financial crisis would in fact have an impact on their personal finances.