Retirees see Betty White as top role model

Tue Jan 17, 2012 10:46am EST

Actress Betty White arrives for a news conference before the taping of ''Betty White's 90th Birthday: A Tribute to America's Golden Girl'' in Los Angeles January 8, 2012. REUTERS/Sam Mircovich

Actress Betty White arrives for a news conference before the taping of ''Betty White's 90th Birthday: A Tribute to America's Golden Girl'' in Los Angeles January 8, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Sam Mircovich

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(Reuters) - She may be the last of TV's "Golden Girls," but the ubiquitous Betty White came in first in a recent survey asking nearly 2,000 retired and soon-to-retire Americans to choose a role model from a selection of prominent senior citizens.

White, who turns 90 today, is the oldest of the celebrities presented to the study group under the heading of whom they would most like to emulate in retirement. She is one of the busiest, starring in the TV Land series "Hot in Cleveland," readying a new hidden-camera reality show featuring seniors called "Betty White's Off Their Rockers," and being feted by NBC in a 90th birthday tribute on January 16, which is why, according to her press agent, she was too busy to comment on the results of the Hartford-MIT AgeLab study.

The Age of Opportunity study (link.reuters.com/kuw95s) was conducted by GfK Roper for The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. - an insurance and wealth management firm - and the MIT AgeLab, a think tank of researchers, business partners, universities and the aging community.

The 1,964 respondents contacted by random telephone calls, were men and women over 45 who had retired in the past two years or planned to retire in the next two to 10 years and further divided them by total household investable assets below or above $250,000.

White garnered the highest percentage of votes from each category of respondents. Her competition - in order of popularity - consisted of former President Jimmy Carter; domestic guru Martha Stewart; Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren; rock legend Steven Tyler; author and former General Electric CEO Jack Welch and boxer-turned-entrepreneur George Foreman.

Why Ms. White? "Because she knows how to laugh," the respondents said.

The choice of White is ironic, considering that 42 percent of current retirees wished they could have retired earlier and 35 percent of those approaching retirement wished they were already there.

The study respondents also had specific reasons for ranking the other celebrities.

- Jimmy Carter, 87 - "because he is a great humanitarian."

- Martha Stewart, 70 - "because she is strong and resilient.

- Helen Mirren, 65 - "because she's fit and fabulous."

- Steven Tyler, 63 - "because he's a free spirit."

- Jack Welch, 76 - "because he is a born leader."

- George Foreman, 63 - "because he is entrepreneurial."

Other than wishing for an earlier opportunity to retire, the study respondents were basically positive about their future. But they did identify health and medical issues as their greatest concern for the years ahead. If they could have changed one aspect of their preparation, a third of retirees said they would have saved more money, but 13 percent wished they had paid more attention to the importance of health issues. Moreover, the vast majority wanted to live "as long as I am healthy," but a very small percentage said they would prefer to live as long as their money lasts.

The survey also emphasized what it calls the independent-mindedness of Americans of both groups who said they did or planned to follow their own path. No surprise then that asked to name the song they'd cite to describe the retirement they have in mind, both groups most often chose the Frank Sinatra classic: "(I Did It) My Way."

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The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are her own.

(Editing by Lauren Young and Beth Pinsker Gladstone)

(Beth.gladstone@thomsonreuters.com; +1 646 223 7289))

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