A Silver Lining after the Recession

Nearly half of individuals surveyed by The Hartford said retirement benefits are more important now than before the start of the recession.


A news release about the survey said it found a sharp, upward spike in the levels of understanding and participation in defined contribution retirement plans. Overall, 76% of respondents said they “completely” or “mostly” understood their retirement benefits in 2010, compared to 65% in 2009.

The biggest increase in the understanding of retirement benefits came from women, with 69% saying they completely or mostly understood their retirement benefits compared to 56% last year, according to the news release.  Men’s understanding improved to 83% from 75% a year ago.

“Greater awareness of the importance of retirement savings is one of the few positive outcomes of the recession,” said Sharon Ritchey, executive vice president and director of The Hartford’s Retirement Plans Group, in the news release.  “We’ve known for a long time that consumers need to save more for retirement and pay closer attention to their retirement savings.  With economic issues staring us in the face every day, it appears that consumers are, at least for now, focusing more on preparing for retirement.”

The study showed that consumers value their retirement plans more now than at the start of the recession.  Forty-three percent said they now view their retirement plan as more important, and 49% said they view it as just as important as before the economic crisis.

In another positive sign, consumers are more likely to participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan today than they were a year ago.  The percentage of those saving in a 401(k) or other defined contribution plan when offered by their employer rose to 84% in 2010 from 80% in 2009.  Again, women showed the biggest jump, with 70% participating in 2010 compared to 61% in 2009.  Men’s participation rate jumped to 71%, up five points from last year.

Twenty-two percent of respondents said poor economic conditions forced them to reduce or eliminate contributions to their retirement plan.  Women were twice as likely to have been affected (22% in 2010 vs. 11% in 2009), and men felt some pain as well (21% in 2010 vs. 15% in 2009).

Matching contributions from employers were reduced or eliminated for one in five consumers in 2010, an increase from 2009 (16%).  Women saw a bigger impact year-over-year, with contributions being altered for 19% in 2010 compared with 14% in 2009.  The impact on men was fairly stable with contributions changing for 21% in 2010 compared to 19% in 2009.

The Hartford’s study was conducted online this spring by Zeldis Research, which polled 1,000 adults ages 18-65.