Are Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials Different When it Comes to Saving?


A new survey finds some stark differences in the savings attitudes and behaviors of Millennials, Gen Xers and Boomers.

A nationwide survey of 1,000 401(k) plan participants commissioned by Schwab Retirement Plan Services, Inc. finds that Millennials, more than any other group, may not be saving enough for retirement because they are unwilling to sacrifice things that add to their current quality of life — and because many are also burdened by student loan debt.

The survey found that Millennials face several obstacles to meeting their retirement savings goals, which disproportionately affect this group more than any other. Moreover, although this younger generation believes they would benefit from help, they are using professional investment advice far less than their older counterparts. Specifically:

  • 44% are not saving more because they want to treat themselves to things like occasional dinners out and vacations, more than Gen Xers (34%) and Boomers (29%).
  • More than a third (37%) can’t set aside more money for retirement because they are still paying off student loans.
  • About half of Millennials (49%) feel that they don’t know what their best investment options are, and only a third (34%) are extremely or very confident in their ability to make the best 401(k) investment decisions on their own.
  • While three-quarters (76%) claim they would like personalized 401(k) investment advice, only 22% say they are likely to seek out professional investment guidance, and just 7% are currently receiving it.
  • Six in 10 Millennials wished there was an easier way to choose the right investments for their 401(k).

Generation X

Survey respondents representing Generation X, while more established in their careers but not yet approaching retirement, have their own set of unique conditions affecting their ability to save. In particular:

  • Like Millennials, Gen Xers’ greatest obstacle to saving more for retirement is an unwillingness to sacrifice their current quality of life (34%) – though that’s just ahead of wanting to save for their children’s education (32%).
  • More than half (58%) claim to know how much they need to have saved for a comfortable retirement, but only 53% believe they are saving enough to retire when they want to.
  • Gen X is the group most likely to have taken a loan from their 401(k): 31% have done so, compared with 13% of Millennials (who, arguably haven’t had as long to do so, or to have accumulated enough to make it worth doing), and 29% of Baby Boomers.


Closer to retirement, nearly two-thirds (63%) believe they are saving enough to retire when they want to. A similar number (65%) think they’ll be retired comfortably in 15 years (bear in mind the youngest in this demographic is now 51), while another 22% say they’ll be retired, but not comfortably.

A third (33%) don’t know how much they should have saved for a comfortable retirement.

More Baby Boomers are currently getting 401(k) investment advice than any other generation: 20%, compared to 7% of Millennials and 10% of Gen Xers. Of course, they’ve had longer to acquire it, and are more likely to have balances large enough to warrant it.

On the whole, this group is more concerned about being healthy enough to enjoy retirement (61%) than having enough money to enjoy it (39%). That stands in sharp contrast to the 59% of Millennials (and 52% of Gen Xers) who are concerned about having enough money to enjoy retirement.

Survey Methodology

The online survey of 1,000 U.S. 401(k) participants was conducted by Koski Research for Schwab Retirement Plan Services. Survey respondents worked for companies with at least 25 employees, were current contributors to their 401(k) plans and were 25-70 years old.

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