Saving for Retirement: If You’re a Young Man, It’s Unlikely, Study Finds

December 4, 2014

by Anna Helhoski

NerdWallet_LogoThe person least likely to be saving for retirement is a man under age 25, according to a new study from the Vanguard Group, “How America Saves 2014.” He works in the wholesale and retail trade and has been at his job for one year or less. He earns less than $30,000 per year in his position.

Income was the greatest determinant in retirement plan participation, according to the study. Only 49% of eligible employees making less than $30,000 per year were participating versus 87% of employees making more than $100,000 per year. In addition, plans with automatic enrollment had an 87% participation rate versus only 62% for plans with voluntary enrollment.

When comparing the sexes, 65% of men participated in their employer-offered plan versus 72% of women, although men still save more money than women.

“Since many of these retirement plans offer a company match, it’s really a shame that lower-income employees are not taking advantage of these accounts,” says Scott Stratton, president of Good Life Wealth Management in Dallas, Texas. He adds, “I’d really like to see more plans with automatic enrollment, which would help both women and men, but most specifically, lower income employees.”

Age, employment prospects color savings

Millennials especially lag in retirement opt-ins. Only 39% of those under age 25 contribute to a retirement plan. About 61% of older millennials ages 25 to 34 participate.

Michelle Perry Higgins, a financial planner and principal of California Financial Advisors in San Ramon, California, and author of “College Poor No More: 100 Saving Tips for College Students,” says millennials are leaving college with far more debt than the generations before them. “Their mindset is to stay focused on paying down debt before they sign up for their 401(k) plan,” she adds.

Theresa Harezlak, a financial advisor with Savant Capital based in Illinois, says two big reasons millennials aren’t able to participate in retirement plans are low-paying jobs and unemployment.

“We live in a society where we want what we want, when we want it. That’s a problem,” she says. “It is more expensive to live the lifestyle we desire, and college costs have skyrocketed. People tend to push back what is not an immediate need, and when you are young, it is hard to think of retirement.”

The less time employees spend at a company, the less likely they are to opt into retirement plans. Only half of those who were at their positions for one year or less opted into plans, while 68% of those at their positions for four to six years opted in. The highest number was among those employed at their jobs for 10 years or more – 77% of this group participated in retirement plans offered by their employer.

The industry employees are in is a strong indicator of whether they will participate in retirement plans. Just 53% of those in the wholesale and retail trade industry participate in employer retirement plans. The transportation, utilities and communications industry didn’t fare much better with 58% participation as well as the business, professional and nonprofit sector with 59%. The industries that garnered the most participation were finance, insurance and real estate with 92% participation, as well as agriculture, mining and construction with 88% participation.

Derek Gabrielsen, a wealth advisor with Strategic Wealth Partners in Independence, Ohio, says the low numbers among those who opt into retirement plans are “alarming.” He says, “Saving to a retirement plan is one of the easiest things you can do. It’s disturbing that it’s not closer to 80% or 90% across the board.”

He says a lack of financial literacy is one of the biggest problems he sees among those who don’t start saving early. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of some companies that explain 401(k) plans and give you all the information about why you should save and what you’ll need for retirement, but I’m not sure a lot of people are getting that.” 

What everyone can do to plan for retirement

It’s essential for both men and women to start saving early and have a plan for their financial future. Putting off saving until later in life makes it far more difficult to be comfortable in retirement, says Gabrielsen.

“I see across the board people at 56 or 57 trying to save a lot for retirement because they haven’t done anything at all. People are retiring earlier whether by choice or by default and people are living longer, so there’s a longer period to plan for,” he said.

Franklin suggests both women and men save 10% to 15% of their income for retirement. “Individuals should save as much as they feel they can afford to,” he says.

Harezlak has tips for saving for retirement right now:

  • Be knowledgeable about your financial life and pay yourself first
  • Take advantage of spousal IRAs if you are not working outside the home
  • When possible, contribute a larger percentage of your income to your retirement plan
  • Work with a professional who can help you think “out of the box” for retirement savings ideas
  • Start saving for retirement before you have children, if possible