There is a marked difference between how long people think they are going to work and how long they actually end up working, according to a new survey by the Society of Actuaries.

People think they will work longer before retiring, either because they have to or want to, but they actually end up retiring earlier than planned in many instances, according to The 2011 Risks and Process of Retirement Survey: Understanding and Managing the Risks of Retirement.

More than one third of pre-retirees (35%) surveyed think they will never retire, an increase from 29% in the 2009 survey. Only one in 10 pre-retirees thinks they will retire before age 60. Half of pre-retirees say they will wait until at least age 65.

In reality, 31% of retirees quit work before age 55, 20% before age 60, and another 10% before age 62.

"There is a major disconnect between when people say they plan to retire and when they actually do," the survey says. Some of it may be because of health problems or because they are downsized. "Many who lose jobs in their 50s and 60s experience more difficulty finding new employment," the survey adds.

The survey was taken of 800 pre-retirees and 800 retirees, ages 40 to 80. It is the sixth survey of this type taken by the Society of Actuaries since 2001.

Another disconnect occurred when people were asked about maintaining a healthy lifestyle to prolong working and activity and to avoid health-care costs. Of retirees, 92% maintain they have a healthy lifestyle or plan to do so, while 94% of pre-retirees make that claim. But this is another area where reality may not meet the ideal, says Carol Bogosian, an actuary and president of CAB Consulting who helped with the study and participated in a recent press conference.

Although both retirees and pre-retirees say they fear running out of money during retirement, only 25% of retirees and 19% of pre-retirees have bought long-term-care insurance and only 33% of retirees and 27% of pre-retirees have bought a product that provides a guaranteed income for life.

Those conducting the survey say they wished those numbers were been higher. Despite the recent market upheaval and the likelihood of living longer, the risks have not been translated into action, says Cindy Levering, actuary and chair of the Society of Actuaries Pension Section Research Team, who helped with the survey.

"We would have thought the downturn (in the economy) would have been a wakeup call, but so far there is no evidence that anything has changed in pre-retirees planning," says Anna Rappaport, actuary and chairperson of the Society of Actuaries Committee on Post-Retirement Needs and Risks, who assisted with the survey.

Only 35% of pre-retirees have a plan for financing their retirement. "Pre-retirees show no significant change from 2005 in the consequences they anticipate should they live five years longer than expected," the survey says.