Imagine having close to $100,000 in your bank account—and then suddenly watching most of it disappear. That’s essentially what happened to Americans between the ages of 35 and 44, who have lost more of their wealth than any other age group over the past five years, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.
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The report found that Americans in their late 30s are more worried about retirement than any other age group. Over half expressed a lack of confidence that their income and savings will support them throughout retirement. Meanwhile, just one-third of Americans in their early 60s and just over a quarter of 18- to 22-year-olds said the same.
That’s the opposite of what the same survey revealed three years ago, when it was Americans in their mid-50s who were most concerned about running out of money. At that time, just 18 percent of Americans in their late 30s said they were worried about not being able to afford retirement.
So what happened to those 30-somethings in the last three years to undercut their confidence so severely? Pew attributes the swift drop to their plummeting wealth levels. Indeed, no other age group has experienced such a loss of wealth, which largely comes from home values.
Unlike older Americans, who are more likely to have purchased their homes pre-housing bubble, and in contrast to their younger peers, who either haven’t yet purchased homes or purchased them after the bubble burst, Americans in early middle-age are the most likely to have bought their first homes at the peak of the housing prices and subsequently experienced steep paper losses as those homes dropped in value.
The Pew report also points out that Americans in their 30s haven’t yet built up significant sources of wealth outside their homes, so the decline in home values hit them disproportionately hard. They also tend to have lower amounts of equity in their homes compared to older Americans, which leaves them more vulnerable to home-value drops.
Another problem for 30-somethings is that they have not benefited from the growth in stock prices over the last three years. Pew reports that Americans between the ages of 35 and 44 were more likely to have sold stock between 2001 and 2010, which means they haven’t benefited from the post-recession growth.
Those two factors, houses and stocks, contribute to the erosion of 30-somethings’ household wealth: While the median wealth drop was $56,029 for 35- to 44-year-olds (a decline of 56 percent), those between the ages of 55 and 64 lost just 22 percent of their wealth. Those younger than age 35 lost 35 percent of their wealth, and those between the ages of 45 and 54 lost 29 percent. The median wealth for the 65-and-up group increased slightly. Younger Americans, who had less wealth three years ago, also lost less (the median wealth decline for those under age 35 was $5,270.)
Still, Americans of all ages express worry about retirement—overall, 4 in 10 respondents expressed a lack of confidence that they will have the income and assets to fund it. Compared to 2009, fewer Americans (60 percent compared to 71 percent) said they were “very” or “somewhat” confident in their retirement resources.
College grads and Americans with household incomes over $100,000 tended to express more confidence about their retirement savings. Those who’ve lost the most confidence include Americans with less education and those with household incomes between $30,000 and $75,000—along with those in their late 30s and early 40s.