More Americans Worry About Affording Retirement

October 25, 2012 ( – Nearly four in 10 adults (38%) say they are “not too” or “not at all” confident they will have enough income and assets for their retirement, a Pew Research Center study found.

This is up from 25% in a study conducted in late February and March of 2009. An analysis of both surveys also shows that concerns about retirement financing are now more heavily concentrated among younger and middle-age adults than those closer to retirement age—a major shift in the pattern that had prevailed at the end of the recession.

Among adults between ages 36 and 40, 53% say they are either “not too” or “not at all” confident that their income and assets with last through retirement. In contrast, only one-third (34%) of those ages 60 to 64 express similar concerns, as do 27% of 18- to 22-year-olds.

In 2009, it was Baby Boomers between ages 51 and 55 who were the most concerned. Only 18% of those 36 to 40 years old were worried they would fall short financially after they retire—one-third of the share who express a similar concern today.

There are also differences among demographic groups, the poll found. College graduates are much more likely than those who have a high school diploma or less to express confidence in their retirement finances (71% vs. 53%). Among those who attended college but do not have a bachelor’s degree, six-in-10 are sure that they will be financially prepared for retirement.

Those with household incomes of $100,000 or more also are significantly more confident than those earning less than $50,000 that they will have the financial resources to live on in retirement (79% vs. 51%).

The most recent Pew survey underscores the relationship between recession losses and worries about retirement finances. Fully 45% of adults ages 35 to 44 say they are financially “worse off” now than before the recession. Among this group, more than two-thirds (68%) say they are not confident they will have enough income and assets to last through retirement. Only 30% of those in this age group who say they are better off now than before the recession express similar worries.

During this decade of wild market swings, ownership of stocks and retirement accounts, such as 401(k) and thrift accounts, fell among most age groups. The declines were greatest among those ages 35 to 44. The proportion of adults in this age group who directly held stocks declined by nine percentage points from 2001 to 2010, with half of this drop occurring before 2007. In contrast, the share of adults 65 and older who directly held stocks declined only three percentage points from 2001 to 2010, from 21% to 18%.

The proportion of 35- to 44-year-olds who held stocks indirectly through retirement accounts also disproportionately fell by nine percentage points, about double the decline among those younger than 35 or between 45 and 54 years old (four percentage points for both groups).

As a consequence, those in the 35 to 44 age group have benefited less from the rapid increase in stock prices since 2009 because they were less likely than their older counterparts to own stock and retirement accounts.

The Pew report is based primarily on data from two different sources: Pew Research Center surveys and the federal Survey of Consumer Finances. Findings from the latest Pew Research survey are based on telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 2,508 adults conducted July 16 to 26, 2012. The full poll findings are here.