Number Expecting to Rely on Social Security Increasing

Still, defined contribution retirement plans top the list of expected major sources of retirement income.

U.S. nonretirees are more likely to say Social Security will be a major source of income in their retirement than they have been at any point in the last 15 years, according to a Gallup poll.

The current 36% of nonretirees expecting to heavily rely on Social Security is roughly 10 percentage points higher than a decade ago. Another 48% believe it will be a minor source. Fourteen percent do not expect Social Security to be a source of retirement funds for them at all.

There are not sufficient sample sizes in any given year’s sample of nonretirees to analyze yearly change. However, a comparison of combined data from the 2014-2015 surveys and combined data from the 2005-2006 surveys shows at least modest increases in expected reliance on Social Security among nonretirees in all age and income groups. Even among the youngest cohort (ages 18 to 34) the percentage expecting Social Security to be a major source of retirement income has doubled—from 13% in 2005-2006 to 26% in 2014-2015.

Even as nonretirees increasingly expect to rely on Social Security in retirement, they are still most likely to name retirement investment accounts, such as 401(k) plans or individual retirement accounts (IRAs), as a major source of retirement funds. Each year Gallup has conducted the poll, 401(k) and other savings plans have topped the list.

Currently, 49% say such plans will be a major source, essentially unchanged from last year but up slightly from an average of 45% from 2009-2013. In 2001, as many as 58% of nonretired Americans expected to rely on 401(k)s or other retirement savings accounts as a major source of money in retirement. After 401(k) plans and Social Security, the next-most-common expected retirement funding sources are regular savings accounts and CDs (27%), work-sponsored pension plans (25%), part-time work (21%), home equity (21%), and individual stocks or stock mutual fund investments (20%).

In the past 15 years, there have been modest declines in the percentages of nonretirees expecting pension plans, home equity and individual stock investments to be major sources of retirement income. There have been modest increases in the percentages expecting to rely heavily on regular savings and part-time work.

Asked about their major sources of income, 59% of current retirees say Social Security is a major income source for them. Pension plans have consistently ranked second on the list of retirees’ major income sources, with 36% saying so this year. Retirement savings accounts like 401(k) plans and IRAs, and retirees’ home equity have typically been the third- or fourth-most-common sources. Currently, 25% of retirees name 401(k) plans as a major source and 16% list home equity.

These results are based on Gallup’s annual Economy and Personal Finance survey, conducted April 9-12, with 652 retirees and 363 retirees.