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How 3 Generations Prepare for Retirement

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Expect widely held assumptions about retirement to change, according to new research from Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.

In its 18th annual Transamerica Retirement Survey, TCRS examines three generations currently represented in the workforce: baby boomers, Generation X and millennials.

“The landscape is now changing so rapidly that it is clear that their retirement will be different from their parents’ generation and from each other’s as well,” according to TCRS.

The online survey was conducted between August 9 and Oct. 28 among a nationally representative sample of 6,372 workers age 18 or older, of which 2,593 were millennials, 1,586 were Gen Xers, 2,076 were baby boomers and 117 were born prior to 1946.


Millennial workers, which TCRS defines as those born between 1979 and 2000, are a “digital do-it-yourself generation of retirement savers,” according to TCRS.

The survey finds that most millennials (80%) are concerned that Social Security will not be there for them when they get ready to retire.

Unlike their parents’ generation, more than half expect their primary source of retirement income to be self-funded through retirement accounts (e.g., 401(k)s, 403(b)s, IRAs) or other savings and investments.

According to the survey, 71% are saving for retirement in a company-sponsored 401(k) or similar plan, and/or outside the workplace.

“They are getting an early and strong start with their retirement savings, but they need to learn more about investing,” according to TCRS. “And they are hungry for more information on how to achieve their retirement goals.”

The median age that millennials started saving for retirement was 24, according to the survey. However, the survey also finds that one in four say that they are “not sure” how their retirement savings are invested and 76% say they would like to receive more information and advice from their employers on how to achieve their retirement goals.

Generation X

Generation X workers, which TCRS defines as those born from 1964 to 1978, are the first generation to have access to 401(k) plans for the majority of their working careers, according to TCRS.

“Generation X entered the workforce in the late 1980s just as 401(k) plans were making their first appearance and defined benefit plans were beginning to disappear,” according to TCRS.

As a result, Gen Xers have high plan participation rates. According to the survey, 80% are saving for retirement in a company-sponsored 401(k) or similar plan and/or outside the workplace.

However, the median age that Generation X started saving for retirement (age 30) is considerably higher than millennials.

The survey also finds that many Gen Xers should be saving more, and some have take loans and early withdrawals. According to the survey, 34% have taken a loan, early withdrawal or hardship withdrawal from their retirement savings.

The survey finds 8% is the median percentage that Generation X participants are contributing to 401(k) or similar plans, and $72,000 is the median amount saved in all household retirement accounts.

“Their retirement confidence is lacking and many are behind on their savings; however, it’s important for them to know that they still have time to catch up before they retire,” according to TCRS.

At the time of the survey, only 14% of Gen Xers are “very confident” that they will be able to fully retire with a comfortable lifestyle.

Baby Boomers

According to TCRS, baby boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — are the generation that has rewritten societal rules at every stage of their life.

“Many were already mid-career when the retirement landscape shifted from defined benefit plans to 401(k) or similar plans,” according to TCRS. “They have not had a full 40-year time horizon to save in 401(k)s.”

Many were also hit hard during the Great Recession and, unlike younger generations, they have less time to financially recover before they retire, according to TCRS.

Likely as a result of this, many boomer workers are planning to work to older ages than previous generations. The survey finds that two-thirds plan to or already are working past age 65 or do not plan to retire and 54% plan to continue working after they retire and most for financial and healthy aging-related reasons.

Yet, the survey also finds that few have a backup plan if forced into retirement unexpectedly. According to the survey, 28% of the boomers surveyed have a backup plan for retirement income if unable to work prior to their planned retirement.

Only 26% of the boomers surveyed plan to immediately stop working and retire when they reach a certain age or savings goal, according to the survey.

In contrast to other generations, 39% expect their primary source of retirement income to be self-funded accounts such as 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and IRAs or other savings. And 38% expect Social Security to be their primary source of income when they retire.


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