Spiders, snakes, skydiving: These are legit fears that we completely understand avoiding. But did you know your fear of death could be subconsciously sabotaging your chance at a comfortable, secure financial future? Morbid, we know, but a recent study out of Boston College found that when people are presented with the idea of their own mortality, they will actively avoid necessary steps in their retirement planning.


The study, recently published online in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, was meant to solve the “annuity puzzle,” the phenomenon of people not investing in annuities, which is a guaranteed source of income post-retirement (in other words, a total no-brainer).

Linda Salisbury, study co-author and Boston College marketing professor, and her team presented two groups with hypothetical retirement scenarios. Each group was asked to imagine they were 65 and nearing retirement; one group was asked if they were interested in an IRA (individual retirement account) or an annuity. Afterwards, the group was asked to share their thoughts. 40 percent of the annuity group participants had death-related thoughts, while only one percent of the IRA group did.

Additionally, one group of participants was asked to write an essay detailing their own death. The second group had to recount a previous dental visit. Again, both were asked if they’d be interested in an annuity or IRA at retirement. The group that had written about their own death were 50 percent less likely to choose an annuity.

Salisbury says, “Our goal was to understand how we can help people overcome their avoidance of annuity products,” which is especially pertinent today, as about 52 percent of American households will not have enough saved to maintain their standard of living once they retire at 65.

So what’s the solution to taking the stigma out of annuity saving? Salisbury and her team found that simple changes to wording on annuity brochures — switching “until you die” to “for each year you live” — significantly and positively increased people’s willingness to invest in annuities. It’s these “simple ways financial planners can reduce thoughts about death in these situations” that Salisbury thinks will make the biggest impact.

Lesson learned: It’s time we face our fears for our financial futures!

Tell us: Have you started a retirement plan, even if it might be scary to think about? Let us know @BritandCo!

(Photo via Getty)