The number of individuals owning life insurance has hit a 50-year low, according to a new study.

Only 44% percent of U.S. households have individual life insurance, according to the Trends in Life Insurance Ownership study, which is conducted every six years by LIMRA, Windsor, Conn.

The number of U.S. households with no life insurance coverage at all has grown to 30% of households (35 million), up from 22% in 2004. Among households with children under age 18, 11 million have no coverage.

“Clearly, more American families are living on the edge–surviving paycheck to paycheck–and, as our new study suggests, too many without the safety net that life insurance provides,” said Robert Kerzner, president and CEO of LIMRA.”The numbers tell a grim story. Today there are 11 million fewer American households covered by life insurance compared with six years ago.”

More than 40% of Americans say a key reason they have not bought more life insurance is that they have other financial priorities right now, such as paying off debt or saving for retirement, LIMRA found.

But not having life insurance leaves families financially vulnerable, LIMRA notes. Among households with children under age 18, 40% said they would immediately have trouble meeting everyday living expenses if the primary breadwinner died today. Another 30% said they would have trouble keeping up with expenses after several months.

Half of households said they felt they needed more life insurance–the highest level LIMRA has ever found. Moreover, 24% of households with children under 18 want to speak with a financial professional about their life insurance needs; and 25% of all households plan to buy life insurance in the next year, according to LIMRA.

Life insurance beat out all other sources of financial assets or income that Americans expect to use to help pay bills and to maintain their lifestyle in the event of the primary wage-earner’s death, LIMRA found.

Other survey findings:

–About one in four middle-market households admit they don’t know how to obtain or reach their financial goals, including buying life insurance.

–Almost eight in 10 U.S. households currently do not have a personal life insurance agent or broker, and most of them say they never did have one.

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