Americans Want to Save for Retirement and for Survivors

Saving for retirement and protecting their families in case of death is important to Americans across generations. 

According to the Multi-Generational Views on Family financial Obligations: A MetLife Survey of Baby Boomers and Members of Generations X and Y, nearly four in five (78%) survey respondents believe there is an obligation to provide for a surviving spouse if one dies unexpectedly. More than half (52%) believe in leaving something for younger children, typically enough to carry them through at least part of college (55%). Six in 10 (63% of Gen Y and Gen X respondents) think providing for children is important, compared to 38% of Boomers.

Most Americans also believe that children have some obligation to help their aging parents financially if necessary, though many parents (42%) say they wouldn’t accept money from their children. More than six in 10 (62%) believe children should call their parents at least once a week to see how they are doing; 58% say children should have a parent live with them for health or economic reasons (50%). Forty-six percent say they should provide financial support to their elder parents or in-laws if there is a need.

Even given the desire of Americans to leave enough money if they were to die unexpectedly, 41% with life insurance coverage say their coverage falls short or aren’t sure they are covered adequately. Gen Xers are most likely to believe they have inadequate coverage (40%), compared to 28% of Boomers and 31% in Gen Y.

“Americans have a strong desire to help their families financially, but their generosity is not unbounded,” said Sandra Timmermann, Ed.D., director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute. “While the research shows money provided to help with specific financial issues is a reflection of love and caring, not a familial mandate or obligation, parents and children are not prepared to give in all instances.” 

Other survey findings include: 
•  Boomer parents (75%) are more likely to have provided financial assistance with items other than education or a house, compared to 40% of Gen X parents with adult children. Fifty-seven percent of Gen Yers have received such support from parents or grandparents, compared to 36% of Boomers.
•  Only 35% of Boomers say they received support for college tuition from their parents, but all three of the generations studied believe it is their obligation to do so for their children.
•  More than four in 10 respondents (44%) say they would feel a strong or absolute responsibility to help an adult child with a financial setback not of their own making. Only 11% feel obligated to help when the situation results from poor spending habits.
•  When asked when their financial responsibility to their children ends, parents generally say it’s when the children are finished with college and that if kids don’t attend college after high school, they should be working.
•  Seven in 10 Boomers (70%) say enjoying retirement takes precedence over leaving an inheritance; just 64% of Gen Xers and 57% of Gen Yers agree.

The survey was conducted online among 2,123 Americans, ages 21-65, from June 29 to July 20, 2011.