Multigenerational survey shows how retirement planning is changing

For many investors, retirement planning represents the majority, or even the entire sum, of their investment activity. As of 2020, there were approximately 60 million active 401(k) participants, plus former employees and retirees. But while millions of adults in the United States contribute to retirement, opinions about investing for retirement and all that goes with it are anything but uniform.

Investopedia conducted an online survey of 4,000 American adults to quantify Americans’ understanding of financial literacy across generations, from baby boomers to Generation Z. Below, we explore some of the top findings from this survey as it relates to investing and planning for retirement. .

key takeaways

  • A small majority of American adults expect to retire, with Generation Z being the most optimistic about retiring early.
  • Two-thirds of millennials and Gen X adults are planning to retire, as are 42% of Gen Z.
  • Younger generations believe that cryptocurrencies will figure prominently in their retirement support.
  • Americans of all generations are insecure about their understanding of retirement planning and need additional guidance.
  • Financial technology (fintech) is making the retirement planning process easier through robo-advisor services, insurance changes, mobile trading platforms and more.

Younger adults expect to retire early

A key finding of the survey is that the majority of adults in each generation expect to be able to retire. Among adults, 57% of those between the ages of 18 and 25, representing Generation Z, and 62% of millennials believe they will retire at some point. Nearly two-thirds of Generation X are hoping to retire or have already retired early (since Generation X encompasses adults ages 42-57). And the vast majority of baby boomers have already retired or hope to. Younger adults expect to leave work at a younger age (57 for Gen Z, 61 for millennials), while pre-retired boomers predict they’ll hang up their hats at age 68, on average.


Depending on your perspective, the data above may or may not be encouraging. These majorities, particularly in the younger generation, are slim. However, they paint a more optimistic picture of Americans’ views on retirement than the 2021 data from the Natixis Global Retirement Index. This research report indicated that the majority of American adults predicted that they would have to continue working longer than expected, with a significant minority of 40% saying that “it would take a miracle” to be financially secure in retirement. The Natixis data may reflect heightened anxiety around financial planning brought about by the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic; still, other data suggests that near and recent retirees may not have changed their plans on a large scale due to the pandemic.

Many have made retirement planning a priority

With most adults hoping to one day retire, a large portion of each generation has taken steps toward that goal by beginning to plan for retirement now. About two-thirds of Millennials and Gen X adults surveyed indicated they are planning to retire, and just over half of boomers did as well.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Gen Z adults furthest from retirement age had the lowest percentage in this area. Still, 42% of Gen Zers surveyed said they were already planning for retirement, even in their late teens and early 20s.

Retirement Plans by Generation

Generations diverge when it comes to how survey participants expect to support their retirement. Older generations, Generation X and baby boomers generally plan to support themselves with Social Security benefits, followed by 401(k)s and pension plans. Younger generations predict that 401(k)s will be the main source of retirement income, but they also expect Social Security to play a role. A surprisingly significant minority of millennial and Gen Z adults expect cryptocurrency investments to be important in retirement as well.


The generational bias in this data is generally consistent with the harsh realities facing Social Security in the future. As scheduled, both Social Security and Medicare will experience long-term funding shortfalls as a result of rising costs as more of the population lives longer into retirement. Officials predict that some funds will run out by the mid-2030s. Understandably, younger adults may feel that Social Security support is not a given when they reach retirement age, and the survey results indicate that younger generations expect to prioritize other supports instead.

Younger adults are increasingly viewing cryptocurrency investments as a viable means of retirement planning. In just over a decade since the launch of Bitcoin, interest in cryptocurrencies has skyrocketed, with some estimates now suggesting that one in 10 people invest in digital tokens.

With the growing interest in cryptocurrencies, more investors are also incorporating tokens into their retirement plans. However, the significant volatility of digital currencies, uncertainties around regulation, and lack of a proven track record as investment vehicles can make cryptocurrencies a dangerous place to look for long-term returns.


Another factor that is changing retirement planning is the influx of financial technology (fintech) companies focused on this area. According to economists Julie Agnew and Olivia S. Mitchell, robotic advisors, new initiatives in life insurance pricing, and technology designed to manage asset runoff in retirement are among the ways the fintech industry it’s already disrupting retirement.

Lack of education, worry clouds optimism for many

The Investopedia survey found that American adults are not confident in their understanding of retirement planning. Behind digital currencies and investing, retirement was the third least understood concept, with more than a quarter of respondents indicating they only have a beginner’s understanding.

However, as mentioned above, the data diverges when broken down by generation. Nearly half of millennials and 40% of Gen Xers said they have an advanced understanding of retirement planning. Generation Z feels the least informed about retirement, which is perhaps to be expected considering that the standard retirement age is at least four decades for members of that group.

Retirement tops the list of financial worries

Americans are not only uninformed about retirement planning, they are also worried about it. Retirement was listed as the top personal financial concern for about a sixth of those surveyed. Generation X, which is closer to retirement age, is particularly concerned. They have also seen dramatic economic events throughout their retirement saving years, including the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and, more recently, the economic uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

By contrast, only one in 10 Gen Zers listed retirement as their top concern. Again, this could be because retirement is the furthest away for this group. It may also reflect a sense of optimism, as noted above, Gen Z was expected to stop working at age 57, well before the standard retirement age. As Gen Z’s earning and savings potential increases over time, their overall feelings about retirement may change as well.


Americans need more guidance on retirement planning

At a time of economic uncertainty, with a complex geopolitical landscape at home and abroad, and the lingering impacts of a devastating pandemic, retirement may not be the most immediate priority for some American adults. Concerns about seismic shifts in the future, including the economic effects of climate change, the depletion of Social Security funds, and ongoing wealth inequality, may also worry investors thinking about planning for retirement.

Still, there are reasons to be optimistic about the retirement outlook going forward. A significant percentage of adults are thinking about and engaging in long-term planning. Fintech developments such as robotic advisors and mobile trading apps can make the retirement savings process easier than ever. And there are excellent resources available for those who feel insecure or overwhelmed by the prospect of planning for retirement.

Methodology

The 2022 Investopedia Financial Literacy Survey quantifies American adults’ understanding of their own financial literacy at a generational level. The survey was conducted via an optional online self-administered questionnaire from January 27, 2022 through February 7, 2022 to 4,000 U.S. adults, 1,000 from each of the following generations: Generation Z (age 18 to 25 years old), millennials (26–41), Generation X (42–57), and baby boomers (58–76). Quotas and data weighting were used to ensure representation of race/ethnicity, gender, region, and income among the total and within each generation. For more information, see the full methodology.

Survey research and data analysis led by Amanda Morelli

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