In another sign that Americans are ill-prepared to enjoy what have always been thought of as “golden years”, according to a new Wells Fargo survey, some 25 percent of aspiring middle class retirees don’t think they’ll be able to quit working until they’re 80 years old.

The concept of a “retirement age” is going the way of the typewriter, another 20th-century relic that has been made irrelevant by changing circumstances. Middle class Americans now expect to work until they have saved enough to afford to retire, according to results from the seventh annual Retirement Survey from Wells Fargo & Company.

Three fourths (76%) of the 1,500 middle class Americans surveyed by telephone by Harris Interactive in August and September 2011 say it is more important to have a specific amount saved before retirement, regardless of age, while only 20% say it is more important to retire at a specific age, regardless of savings.

The survey also found:

• A quarter (25%) of middle class Americans say they will “need to work until at least age 80” to live comfortably in retirement
• Three-fourths (74%) of middle class Americans expect to work in their retirement years, including 39% of all respondents who will need to work to make ends meet or maintain their lifestyles, while 35% say they will work because they want to, rather than out of financial need.
• Among middle class Americans age 40 to 59, 54% say they will “need to work,” compared to 34% of those age 25 to 39. Accordingly, only 25% of those between the ages of 40 and 59 say they will work in retirement because they “want to,” versus 45% of Americans between the ages of 25 and 39.

There’s lots more thoroughly depressing data in this survey, not the least of which is that almost 40 percent of respondents have “no fears” about retirement because “it will work itself out”. For about 90 percent of this group, it probably won’t.

Also, Americans have saved only $25,000 of an estimated $350,000 they’ll need to retire comfortably with almost a third of those in their 60s having saved less than $25,000.