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Will Millennials Be Ready for Retirement? It Doesn’t Look Good

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Millennials are generally better educated than baby boomers and Gen Xers, which should bode well for their retirement savings, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, according to a new study from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

It compared several economic and social variables among millennials, Gen Xers and “late baby boomers” when they were all at age 25 to 35. Despite their higher education levels, fewer millennials were working between age 25 and 35 compared with earlier generations; their wages were lower — compared with the median for all workers — and they had fewer workplace benefits.

These factors plus a greater burden of student debt have resulted in millennials delaying marriage and home purchases and participating less in retirement plans than older generations at the same age, according to the study by CRR Director Alicia Munnell and Senior Research Advisor Wenliang Hou. About half of millennials own a home by age 35 compared with about 60% of Gen Xers and baby boomers at that age.

Wealth to income ratio. Source: Center for Retirement Research

(Related: The Millennials Are All Right (but They Still Worry): BofA)

The gap between generations is even greater concerning student debt. Almost half of millennials age 25 to 35 owe student debt compared with less than 30% of Gen Xers and just over 20% of late baby boomers, which the study defines as those born between 1954 and 1964 (The comparable Gen Xers were born between 1969 and 1979.)

Moreover, the outstanding student loan balance for millennials amounts to more than one-third of their earnings. “The short-term finances of those with a college degree are more fragile than one would generally expect,” according to the report.

The longer term doesn’t look too rosy, either, considering that millennials on average will live longer than individuals from earlier generations, wait longer to collect “full” Social Security benefits and likely collect less from Social Security since its trust fund is expected to be depleted by 2034. At that point, benefits are expected to be cut by 25% if no changes are made to funding forumulas or distributions.

Life expectancy at age 30. Source: Center for Retirement Research

“At this point a simple analysis suggests that millennials are well behind other cohorts at the same age even though they will live longer and receive less from Social Security relative to pre-retirement earnings,” the CRR report states.

The silver lining to this dim picture: “Retirement is still a long way off for these millennials,” according to the report. What actually does happen when millennials retire will depend on how long they work, how much they save — which will also reflect returns in financial markets — and what Congress does to preserve Social Security benefits and to expand the availability of retirement savings plans at workplaces.

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