With only six to 15 years to go before they quit working, 50% of boomers aged 50 to 59 mostly agree that they don’t know how much they need to save for retirement, a new study by the Guardian Life Insurance Company of America concludes.

Moreover, 60% of these leading-edge boomers agree at least somewhat that they want to save more but don’t actually do so, Guardian found.

The study surveyed more than 1,000 boomers between the ages of 50 and 59 to understand their attitudes toward specific retirement investment products, particularly variable annuities, and what motivates them to save and invest. “Leading-Edge Boomers: Rethinking Retirement & Exploring Annuities,” was conducted for Guardian by Harris Interactive Inc., Rochester, N.Y.

Confronted with the prospect of living longer than earlier generations, leading-edge boomers must often balance the needs of aging parents and maturing children while trying to focus on managing their own money and saving for retirement, the study concludes.

Guardian found that among leading-edge boomers not yet retired, 69% worry about outliving their financial resources, while 80% are concerned about having adequate income during retirement. Among all leading-edge boomers, 15% say they don’t have enough money to save or invest right now.

Generating an income they won’t outlive is of prime importance to boomers, comments Bruce Long, president, Guardian Life & Annuity Company, a unit of Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, New York.

“Boomers will collectively live longer than any preceding generation of American retirees,” Long says. “Their longevity comes at a time when employment is more transient and pensions are being phased out. They cannot rely solely on employer-paid benefits and Social Security.”

Among boomers surveyed, 48% were not sure of what their best choices were for saving for retirement, and 41% admitted they were not completely confident that their retirement savings and investments were diversified sufficiently.

Many still are shaken by the recent stock market turmoil. Among leading-edge boomers, 57% were concerned that stock market volatility would decrease their retirement income.

Boomers are attracted to investments with certain guaranteed features but don’t always recognize that they can get these features by buying annuities, the survey found.

For instance, when asked their opinion on certain product benefits, 71% liked the idea of a retirement vehicle that provides a steady stream of income once they retire, and 69% liked the idea of a vehicle that guarantees the principal.

Yet the study found 86% of leading-edge boomers don’t own annuities. Of these, 70% say they have not thought about buying an annuity, mostly because they don’t know enough about the product.

That they don’t recognize annuities provide precisely the investment advantages they seek shows that boomers, like many others, are mystified by them, says Long. It’s up to the industry and advisors to educate boomers on different types of annuities that fill the bill for their retirement savings needs, he says.

The study also found differences among the sexes in their views of annuities.

Among those that already own an annuity, both men and women liked the guarantees that annuities offer. When asked to rate the value of annuity characteristics, however, women rated both “steady stream of income” and “guarantees the principal” higher than men. On the other hand, men rated “death benefit” and “estate for heirs” slightly higher than women.

Guardian found that women who own annuities tend to find most annuity characteristics more appealing than men, particularly the living benefits.

“While men don’t rate any of the characteristics significantly higher than women, they do place more relative importance on the death benefits,” says Long.