The baby boomer 'nest-egg myth': By the numbers

Boomers are reaching retirement age, but many aren't sufficiently well-off to stop working. Here's a stats-based overview of the problem

The baby boom generation may be hitting retirement age, but shrinking 401(k) accounts may force many of them to stay in the workforce.
(Image credit: Corbis)

The oldest members of the baby boom generation are turning 65 this year, but many are woefully unprepared financially to stop working. The "nest-egg" is a myth, says Susan Jacoby in the Los Angeles Times, noting that nearly half of older Americans have no income from stocks and savings accounts. And, even those wealthy enough to have some sort of nest egg have far too little in it, according to Federal Reserve data analyzed by The Wall Street Journal and Boston College's Center for Retirement Research. Here, a brief guide, by the numbers, to the "nest-egg myth."


Age the oldest baby boomers are turning this year

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

More than 8.5 million

Projected number of Americans who will be over age 85 in 20 years

Less than 25 percent

Amount the median household headed by someone aged 60 to 62 has of the retirement savings needed to maintain his or her standard of living, according to data from the Federal Reserve. "Inevitably, we find that, for the average person, there is not enough there," says financial adviser Paul Merritt. "The discussion turns out to be: What kind of part-time work do you want to do after you retire?"

About 50 percent

Amount of wealth lost by baby boomer households between 2004 and 2009, due to shrinking 401(k) accounts and the real estate collapse

Only 50 percent

Share of working Americans that have tax-sheltered retirement accounts

75 percent

Number of Americans over 65 whose annual income (including Social Security) is less than $34,000, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service. "Furthermore, household income drops precipitously with every decade, and most of the poor in their 80s and 90s are women, who — unless their husbands possessed vast wealth — are very likely to become poorer when they are widowed."

85 percent

Assumed share of a household's pre-retirement income needed to maintain the same standard of living in retirement


Median income, in 2009, for households nearing retirements (with heads aged 60 to 62) that have 401(k)-type accounts


The 85 percent of that salary needed for requirement

As much as $35,080 a year

Amount Social Security will provide for such a household


Amount needed from other sources to maintain pre-retirement standard of living. "Most 401(k) accounts don't come close to making up that gap,"says E.S. Browning in The Wall Street Journal.


Amount the median 401(k) plan holds, according to the Center for Retirement Research


Amount per year such an account would provide a household, less than 25 percent of the $36,465 needed

9 percent

The current median amount that people contribute to 401(k) plans, including employer contributions, according to Vanguard Group, a leading provider of the plans. "In general, people facing problems today got too little advice, or bad advice," says Browning. "They didn't realize that a 6 percent annual contribution, with a 3 percent company match, might not be enough."

12 to 15 percent

Amount, including employer contribution, that Vanguard recommends people contribute to their 401(k) plan

Sources: Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.