Retirement will be unrecognizable in the future when it is compared to what has been known in the past few decades, according to Merrill Lynch financial experts.

"Baby Boomers turning 65 are turning the perception of later life upside down," says  Andy Sieg, head of retirement services for  Bank of America Merrill Lynch. The statement was made during a press conference on the the release of the Merrill Lynch Affluent Insights Quarterly Survey of 1,000 affluent Americans with investable assets in excess of $250,000.

Major findings of the survey include a difference in the way men and women view retirement and the revelation that a vast majority of older workers and retirees would advise young people to start retirement planning in the 30s or even 20s with the assistance of a financial advisor.

At the same time, the experts pointed out they are optimistic about the survey results, such as 72% of the affluent feel they will have a better standard of living in retirement than their parents.

"They feel this is a time of renewal more than retirement, which is becoming a quaint notion," Sieg said. "The change represents freedom and opportunity, which is exciting."

However, concerns still lurk, and there is a stark difference between the views of retirement for men and women, according to the survey.

Only 34% of women surveyed have confidence they will be able to meet their long-term financial goals, while 49% of men feel confident. A top financial concern for the majority of the affluent is the cost of health care, but more women (70%) find it a concern than men (57%).

"I think this is because women have a broader view of the family finances than men and want to remain more active in retirement," says Sharon Oberlander,  Merrill Lynch Wealth Management Advisor. "Women have more of a concern about income stream."

By significant margins, more women than men want to travel during retirement (86% vs. 66%), want to enjoy hobbies (74% vs. 60%) and want to be involved in the community, including philanthropy (64% vs. 43%).

When asked what advice they would give younger people, 78% of the surveyed retirees said they would advise people to begin planning financially as early as in their thirties or even twenties, and 34% said they would advise working with an advisor earlier in life.

"At the same time, we are dealing with a lot more clients who want to be more involved in understanding their finances, and they want someone by their side to help them set realistic goals and not do it on their own," says Bill Moran, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management Advisor.

"People want more rigor (in their savings) earlier, and a greater awareness of their needs earlier, no matter what the market is doing," adds Lyle LaMothe, head of U.S. Wealth Management for Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.

Nearly half (47%) described themselves as conservative investors and the percentage was even higher for younger people, 59% for under 35 and 41% for 35 to 64.

"Investors remain much more concerned about avoiding unnecessary risk in the face of ongoing economic uncertainty, high unemployment and in the wake of two of the most severe bear markets in history," LaMothe said. While serving the clients' wishes, Merrill Lynch advisors are "working closely with them to ensure that current perspectives on risk don't hinder their pursuit of long-term goals."

From the employer's standpoint, there is a new paternalism for providing benefits and education, even for the affluent, says Sieg.

"A decade ago retirement was more automatic, but the vast majority of those surveyed say they still have a degree of control and [60%] still plan to retire at the age they originally hoped for," says LaMothe.