It’s hard to pin down exactly how much people have in retirement savings. The answers sometimes ignore assets that are held in certain types of retirement accounts, and some averages include (or exclude) people with zero retirement savings. But there are several excellent studies from reputable sources that tell us how much people have in retirement savings.
It may be frustrating to find that these surveys disagree on the exact amount people have saved for retirement, but it’s the best we can do.
On this page: Retirement savings statistics from several sources.
- Retirement savings by age from TD/Harris
- Average and median savings from the Fed
- Fidelity data from IRAs, 401(k) plans, and 403(b) plans
- Boston College research on retirement savings for women, men, and couples
- A refresher on the numbers behind median and mean (or “average”)
Note that comparing yourself to others can cause frustration—especially if you’re coming in lower than others. Your retirement savings are not a scoreboard to measure yourself against others. Instead, it’s just a pool that you can draw from, and you only need enough to meet your needs. Also, you might not need the same amount as the average. Whether you need more or less depends on where you live, your needs, and other factors.
TD Ameritrade & Harris Poll
One way to look at retirement savings is to ignore the averages. A single number can’t capture a broad range of people, but understanding where most people fall could be helpful. Data from a TD Ameritrade/Harris poll does just that.
You can see various age ranges and how your age likely influences your retirement savings. People in their 50s, 60s, and 70s seem more likely to have bigger nest eggs. But younger people tend to have less. That makes sense if you’re early in your career and you haven’t been saving and investing for decades.
Also, while saving $1 million is a common goal, a relatively small portion of the population reaches that milestone. By number, there are a lot of people with $1 million in retirement savings because of the large population.
Survey of Consumer Finances: Average Savings by Age
The Fed releases the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) with fresh data every few years. At the moment, the most recent data comes from 2019, which might be a good thing. 2020 was volatile of everybody’s finances in a variety of ways.
The SCF primarily looks at average retirement savings by age. As you might imagine, as people get older, their assets tend to increase. But we also get a breakdown of the median and the mean (remember that the mean is the same as average). This highlights how those with significant assets skew the average higher—and how most people don’t have significant assets.
People aged 65 to 74 have the most saved for retirement. But those between the ages of 55 and 64 are not far behind.
Continue reading below, or watch and listen to the video:
Fidelity’s Building Financial Futures study helps paint a picture of retirement savings at the end of 2020.
- Average 401(k) balance across all ages: $121,500
- Average among long-term savers (saving for at least 15 years): $479,100
- Average for women invested in the same employer plan for 10+ years: $297,900
- Average in 403(b) (tax-exempt employers) plans: $106,100
- You might also have a pension from those employers.
- Overall average at the end of 2020: $128,100
Individuals with a workplace plan plus IRA at Fidelity:
Remember that these numbers are averages, so they can skew higher when a minority of people have significant savings.
Center for Retirement Research: Average Savings of Women and Men
Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research provides research on a variety of retirement-related topics. A study published by Wenliang Hou shows the disparity between retirement savings of women and men. We can see average and median retirement savings at age 65.
Source: Boston College
Women in traditional marriages may have lower retirement account balances for several reasons. Primary suspects include the wage gap and breaks in working due to caregiving, but other factors are also likely. The result is not just limited to lower account balances—women may also see lower Social Security and pension benefits in retirement. This is problematic in several ways, and it’s particularly important for women to be aware of, as they may be more likely to live alone at some point during retirement due to longevity.
A Quick Math Refresher
It’s probably been a while since math class, so what do all of these numbers mean? Which should you pay attention to—the mean, the median, or both? They’re all interesting numbers, but it’s important to know how they work. The median is probably most representative of most people in the population.
When most people ask about the average retirement savings at age 65, they might not actually want the average. Instead, they may be wondering how much most people have or what a typical person has.
Median is the Middle
The median is the middle of all the responses.
For example, assume we ask everybody “How much do you have saved for retirement?” Next, we arrange the answers in order from smallest to largest. The median is the answer in the middle of that lineup.
Mean is Average
The “mean” or average is a mathematical average that can be skewed. In our example, people with significant retirement savings tend to make the mean higher than the median. That can happen when a minority of people have retirement savings that far exceed the general population.
To get the mean or average, you add up all of the answers and divide by the number of answers.
How Much Should You Have?
There’s no single answer to this question. A framework for figuring this out is:
- Evaluate your needs, such as living expenses, healthcare costs, and anything else you plan to pay for.
- Inventory your income sources like Social Security and pension income.
- Determine if there’s a gap between what you need and what you have.
- Figure out what assets are required to fill that gap.
If you’d like help in that process, please feel free to reach out. Financial planning services are available for one-time projects and ongoing guidance.