skip to main content

401(k) Regaining Importance as Future Income Source

401(k) Regaining Importance as Future Income Source

Story Highlights

  • Half of nonretirees expect 401(k) to be a major income source in retirement
  • This is up from a low of 42% in April 2009, but still below earlier highs
  • Planned reliance on Social Security is near 17-year high

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- With the stock market hovering near historical highs a full eight years into the bull market, 50% of nonretired Americans expect their 401(k) or other retirement savings account to be a major source of income in their golden years. This expectation is the highest (by one point) that Gallup has recorded since April 2008, just before the Wall Street financial crises sucked more than $2 trillion out of U.S. retirement accounts.

Graph 1

While improved, nonretirees' expectation that their retirement account will significantly fund their post-working years has not returned to where it was prior to the financial crises. The percentage expecting their 401(k), IRA, Keogh or other retirement account to be a major income source averaged about 52% in Gallup polling each April from 2001 through 2008. The highest point for this outlook was 58% in 2001, at the tail end of the dot-com boom.

Relatedly, Gallup finds fewer Americans owning stocks than in the past. Prior to the 2007-2009 recession, at least 60% of U.S. adults said they had money invested in stocks or in a mutual fund, 401(k) or IRA. But this began sliding in 2009, falling to 52% by 2013, and is at 54% today.

At the same time, the 34% of nonretirees counting on Social Security as a major source of retirement income is near its peak in Gallup's 17-year trend. Prior to the recession, between 25% and 29% thought they would rely this heavily on Social Security, but this increased to 31% during the recession and has since ranged from 29% to 36%.

Graph 2

One in Four Counting on Savings Accounts, Pensions for Retirement

Retirement savings accounts and Social Security are the top two sources of income that today's nonretirees expect to rely on the most. This is true not only in the percentages predicting each will be a major source of income in later years, but also in terms of the combined percentages saying each will be a major or minor source -- roughly 80% for both.

Retirement Savings Accounts Lead the List of What Nonretirees Expect as Major Sources of Income in Retirement
When you retire, how much do you expect to rely on each of the following sources of money -- will it be a major source of income, a minor source of income or not a source at all?
Major source Minor source Not a source
% % %
A 401(k), IRA, Keogh or other retirement savings account 50 30 18
Social Security 34 45 19
Other savings such as a regular savings account or CDs 25 43 31
A work-sponsored pension plan 25 29 44
The equity you have built up in your home 21 42 35
Part-time work 19 52 27
Individual stock or stock mutual fund investments 18 37 43
Annuities or insurance plans 9 34 55
Rent and royalties 9 26 63
Money from an inheritance 6 28 64
Gallup, April 5-9, 2017

Following these workhorses of retirement security, regular savings accounts or CDs, as well as work-sponsored pension plans, figure as major potential income sources for 25% of nonretirees. More than half of nonretirees are counting on each as at least a minor source of income.

Next up are home equity, part-time work and individual stock or stock mutual fund investments. Roughly one in five nonretirees predicts each of these will be a major income source for them, and majorities of 55% to 71% identify each as at least a minor source.

Fewer than one in 10 nonretirees believe annuities or insurance plans, rent or royalty income, or inheritance money will be a major income source for them in retirement. In addition, less than half expect these to be either a major or minor source.

More Eyeing Savings Accounts, Part-Time Work for Retirement Income

The current rank order of expected retirement sources is similar to what Gallup's annual Economy and Personal Finance survey has found each year since annual tracking of this measure began in 2001. The 2017 installment was fielded April 5-9.

Nonretirees' current views are similar to those recorded last year. But compared with the baseline measure in 2001, more now predict that traditional savings accounts, part-time work and Social Security will be significant income streams in their retirement. The biggest declines are for work-sponsored pensions and 401(k) and other retirement accounts, as well as individual stock investments.

Expectations for relying on rent or royalties, annuities or insurance plans, inheritance money and home equity are fairly stable.

Since 2001, Nonretirees Have Grown More Likely to View Regular Savings/CDs, Part-Time Work and Social Security as Major Sources of Retirement Income
% Major source of income
2001 2017 Change
% % pct. pts.
Other savings such as a regular savings account or CDs 16 25 +9
Part-time work 10 19 +9
Social Security 28 34 +6
Rent and royalties 5 9 +4
Annuities or insurance plans 7 9 +2
Money from an inheritance 7 6 -1
The equity you have built up in your home 24^ 21 -3
Individual stock or stock mutual fund investments 24 18 -6
A 401(k), IRA, Keogh or other retirement savings account 58 50 -8
A work-sponsored pension plan 34 25 -9
^ Based on 2002 poll
Gallup

Current Retirees Mainly Depend on Social Security, Followed by Pensions

In addition to asking nonretirees about the sources of income they anticipate relying on when they retire, the survey also asks those who have already retired what they are actually using.

Current retirees report depending the most on Social Security, with 55% calling it a major income source for them today and 89% saying it is either a major or minor source. This is followed by a work-sponsored pension, with 38% calling it a major source, and retirement savings accounts such as a 401(k) or Keogh, at 24%.

Current Retirees Rely Most on Social Security, Followed by Pensions and 401(k) or Other Retirement Savings Accounts
How much do you rely on each of the following sources of income today -- is it a major source of income, a minor source of income or not a source at all?
Major source Minor source Not a source
% % %
Social Security 55 34 10
A work-sponsored pension plan 38 20 40
A 401(k), IRA, Keogh or other retirement savings account 24 35 38
The equity you have built up in your home 20 28 48
Individual stock or stock mutual fund investments 18 31 49
Other savings such as a regular savings account or CDs 12 38 48
Annuities or insurance plans 7 26 62
Rent and royalties 5 18 75
Money from an inheritance 5 11 82
Part-time work 5 20 74
Gallup, April 5-9, 2017

There has been little variation since 2001 in retirees' reports of their actual reliance on various income sources.

Bottom Line

Most future retirees expect to depend on mainly Social Security or their 401(k) or other retirement investment account in their retirement. Just after the Great Recession, fewer retirees were sure their personal investments would do the job, leaving more Americans to say they would likely depend on Social Security.

Today, confidence in retirement investments is about halfway restored to where it was prior to the recession, which is likely a positive reaction to the strong stock market. This is also seen in surging investor confidence in the investing climate, as measured by the Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index. However, nonretirees' expectation for relying on Social Security has not waned accordingly. Rather, slightly more plan to lean heavily on both income streams, perhaps as pensions disappear.

These findings underscore how important it is that legislative and financial policymakers do their jobs well. That means helping to spur the economic growth needed to support both a strong stock market and thriving labor market. The latter alone could go a long way in improving the Social Security system's fragile balance sheet. However, to the extent that policy changes are needed to keep the Social Security trust fund solvent, leaders and the public must be willing to make some tough choices. Future retirees are counting on it.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted April 5-9, 2017, with a random sample of 1,019 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. For results based on the sample of 718 nonretirees, the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points. For results based on the sample of 301 retirees, the margin of sampling error is ±7 percentage points.

All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

Gallup


Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/209579/401-regaining-importance-future-income-source.aspx
Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030