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By Kaitlin Mulhere
November 12, 2019

Millennials are nearly as likely as their older co-workers to be regularly saving for retirement, a new survey has found.

A solid 45% of millennial workers said they have a 401(k) or IRA, and 33% of those that have an account are actively contributing to it, a joint survey by Morning Consult and Business Insider found.

Generation X workers, meanwhile, may be up to three decades closer to retirement age than millennials, yet they’re barely ahead of them in savings behavior. One-half of Gen Xers said they had a retirement account and 36% reported saving in it regularly—just 3% more than the younger workers, according to the survey. Morning Consult polled 2,000 Americans, including 670 millennials, defined as workers between the ages of 23 and 38 and 566 Gen Xers, who are between 39 and 54.

Retirement savings experts have been sounding the alarm for years about how few Americans are adequately prepared to pay their bills, including climbing healthcare costs, in retirement. At least half of Americans are not “on track” for retirement, according to estimates by Fidelity. About six in 10 Americans even acknowledge that they need to catch up on retirement savings, TD Ameritrade found earlier this year.

With regular headlines highlighting the rocky economic times in which millennials came of age, it’d be natural to expect they may be farthest behind. For example, the generation has had to borrow at an unprecedented rate and level to pay for ever-increasing higher education prices. And student debt is often blamed in surveys and anecdotally as a primary driver for millennials ‘economic woes.

But here’s the surprising news: There have been multiple previous indications that millennials are taking retirement savings seriously — perhaps more so than Gen Xers. In 2016, Fidelity found that millennials were increasing their retirement savings rate faster than Gen Xers and Boomers, though they were still saving a smaller portion of their salaries overall. Two years later, Fidelity gave millennials a higher score for retirement preparation than Gen Xers.

Multiple studies of 401(k) allocations in 2017 also found that millennials are smartly putting a significant amount of their savings into stocks. (Experts say that younger workers typically want to put a higher percentage of their money into the stock market, because even if there is an economic downturn there will be plenty of time for their investments to grow.)

To be fair to Gen Xers, they face many of the same financial challenges as millennials. (Hello, stagnant wages and rising prices for housing and healthcare.) Many Gen Xers feel an extra squeeze as the so-called “sandwich generation.” They are simultaneously caring — and paying for — their children (including their college educations) and their aging boomer parents.

A recent study from the Employment Benefit Research Institute found that Generation X families are behind in many financial status indicators compared with prior generations at the same age. For example, Generation X families had lower homeownership rates and a lower median net worth than did prior generations of families when their primary earners were between the ages of 40- and 51-years old.

The Morning Consult/Business Insider report comes on the heels of a survey from Wells Fargo that found Gen Xers tend to have more money stashed away in retirement accounts than their younger colleagues. Fifteen percent of Gen X respondents have between $100,000 and $250,000 saved, compared with 8% of millennials. That’s to be expected, since members of Gen X have had longer to save and see their savings grow.

But the Wells Fargo survey also hints at why millennials may be quicker than Gen X to meet the same savings benchmarks: They’re less likely to expect significant payouts from Social Security or pension plans. About 37% of Gen Xers plan to fund their retirement mostly with Social Security or a pension, compared to 25% of millennials surveyed.

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