Retirement Outlook

Millennials & Gen X Increasingly Concerned About Retirement In Wake of Pandemic

Strong support across generations for pensions and Social Security

National Institute on Retirement Security Poll examines generational views on retirement in the United States. Access the full report here.

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 19, 2021 – A national survey finds that Millennials and Generation X are more worried about retirement as compared to older generations. Sixty-four percent of Millennials and 54 percent of Generation X are more concerned about their retirement security in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The level of concern is at 42 percent for Baby Boomers and 25 percent for the Silent Generation.

“Generation X and Millennials are the first two generations that largely will enter retirement without a pension, so it’s not surprising that their anxiety is higher,” said Dan Doonan, NIRS executive director and report co-author.

“Millennials and Gen X have lived through multiple economic downturns and decades of stagnant wages. Couple that with longer life spans and rising health and long-term care costs, and it’s easy to understand their pessimism. Going forward, it will be critical for policymakers to find ways to strengthen our retirement infrastructure so these generations can be self-sufficient in their older years,” Doonan said.

Among those who plan to change their retirement, about two-thirds of all generations say they plan on delaying retirement . During the pandemic, Millennials were more likely than other generations to take actions that could harm their long-term financial and retirement security such as reduced saving or spending retirement savings. Millennials also were much more likely to spend their emergency savings. While it is a positive that this generation had access to rainy day savings during tough times, spending savings has an impact on their financial position.

Americans across generational lines plan to take a number of actions to ensure a secure retirement – including working longer, cutting spending now and in retirement. All generations surveyed seemed to understand there is a wide mix of factors that make preparing for retirement more difficult, including longer life spans, rising costs and fewer pensions.

Generation X and Millennials are the first two generations that largely will enter retirement without a pension, so it’s not surprising that their anxiety is higher...

Support For Pensions & Social Security

The research finds strong support for pensions and Social Security, both of which provide stable and predictable income that lasts through retirement. Most Americans across generational lines see the value of increasing contributions to Social Security, and the highest support for expanding Social Security is among Millennials (61 percent).

Similarly, pensions are viewed favorably by all generations, with Millennials expressing the highest favorability (81 percent). There is broad agreement that all U.S. workers should have access to a pension to ensure financial independence in retirement.

This research also finds:

  • Across generations, most of those who are concerned about the impacts of the pandemic plan to delay their retirement.
  • There is generational agreement that the U.S. faces a retirement crisis, with Millennials and Generation X most pessimistic about retirement.
  • There is broad support across generations for Social Security, including support for increasing contributions and expanding benefits.
  • All generations have favorable views of defined benefit pensions, along with wide agreement that pensions are better than 401(k) plans for providing retirement security.

Research Parameters

Conducted by Greenwald Research, information for this study was collected from interviews conducted between December 4–10, 2020, of 1,203 individuals aged 25 and older. The final data were weighted by age, gender, and income to reflect the demographics of Americans aged 25 and older. Tabulations in some of the charts may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

For the purposes of this research, Millennials include those ages 25 to 43, Generation X includes those ages 44 to 55, Baby Boomers include those ages 56 to 74, and the Silent generation includes those age 75 or older.




The National Institute on Retirement Security is a non-profit, non-partisan organization established to contribute to informed policymaking by fostering a deep understanding of the value of retirement security to employees, employers and the economy as a whole. Located in Washington, D.C., NIRS membership includes financial services firms, employee benefit plans, trade associations, and other retirement service providers. More information is available at Follow NIRS on Twitter @NIRSonline.