Gen X Has Competing Financial Priorities

Generation X employees struggle the most when it comes to saving for retirement, a survey by PwC indicates.

Results of the “2013 Employee Financial Wellness Survey” show members of Generation X, born between the early 1960s and early 1980s, have to juggle financial priorities that compete with the need to save for retirement. These priorities relate to their homes, children and parents. As a result, more than one-third (36%) of Generation X employees think it is likely they will need to raid their retirement savings for non-retirement expenses–more than Baby Boomers and Generation Y/Millennials who think so.

The survey found 84% of Generation X employees that own their own home have a mortgage, and 34% of those report that the outstanding balance of their mortgage is greater than the current value of their home. Two-thirds (67%) have dependent children, and 54% plan to fund their educational expenses. In addition, 26% provide care for parents or in-laws, and 24% provide financial support.

“The survey’s aim was to go under the hood and see why people weren’t saving for retirement. Plan sponsors were previously trying to force a solution by using plan features such as automatic enrollment and automatic escalation. However, plan sponsors need to look beyond just enrollment and get broader in their thinking on how to get people to save for retirement,” Kent E. Allison, partner and national practice leader of the Employee Financial Education Practice at PwC in Florham Park, New Jersey, told PLANSPONSOR.

Allison recalled that when he spoke about financial wellness programs five years ago, no one was really talking about them. While most people are now familiar with the term, he said, “the number of companies who have actually instituted a financial wellness program is still pretty sparse.”

The survey also found employees’ concerns about retirement include:

  • Running out of money (45%);
  • Health care costs (38%);
  • Not being able to maintain standard of living (26%);
  • Health issues (25%);
  • Not being able to meet monthly expenses (21%);
  • Meeting education expenses for children (4%);
  • Managing investments in retirement (3%); and
  • Other expenses for children (e.g., wedding expenses) (2%).

Allison said, "[Plan sponsors] will have to go beyond retirement education and investment planning to deal with this. They need to look at changing the behavior of participants.” In the past, he said, people had a defined benefit plan and Social Security for retirement. “It sort of acted as a safety net to protect them from their own behaviors [related to saving and investing]. With a 401(k) plan, you’re not required to participate or contribute.”

The survey polled more than 1,600 adults and covered the following groups: Baby Boomers (ages 53 to 70), Generation X (ages 32 to 52) and Generation Y (ages 21 to 31). The results of the survey can be found here.