Majority of U.S. adults believe Social Security benefits will dry up in their lifetime
10th annual survey also finds younger generations more likely to turn to financial professionals for help navigating the system
Columbus, OH - Since 2014, the Nationwide Retirement Institute has surveyed Americans annually on their perceptions, concerns and understanding of the U.S. Social Security system. This year’s survey marks its 10th edition and reveals how Americans’ attitudes towards Social Security have shifted significantly over the past decade.
The 2023 Social Security survey delivered concerning findings: three-fourths (75%) of adults age 50+ worry Social Security will run out of funding in their lifetime, up from 66% in 2014. Additionally, one in five (21%) adults age 50+ say they have no source of retirement income in addition to Social Security, up from 13% in 2014. Ten years ago, nearly half of Americans (48%) had a pension in addition to Social Security, compared to just 31% in 2023.
A notable bright spot is that more adults age 50+ are talking with a financial professional about Social Security today than they were in 2014. Over half (53%) of adults today say their financial professional provides advice on how and when to file for Social Security benefits, up significantly from 35% in 2014. More than two-fifths of adults (43%) with a financial professional now expect their financial professional to provide Social Security advice, a 14-point jump from 10 years ago (29% in 2014).
“A decade of research into Americans' views on Social Security confirms that working with a trusted financial professional isn't just beneficial, it's vital to maximizing your benefits—especially as retirement approaches,” said Tina Ambrozy, senior vice president of Strategic Customer Solutions at Nationwide. “Social Security education is an empowerment tool and a proven strategy for creating financial resilience, one that financial professional stand ready to provide. ”
Gen Z and millennials are pessimistic about the future, but plan to take action
In addition to analyzing the 10-year trends among adults age 50+, this year’s survey also reveals how younger generations think about Social Security’s future. The study found that about two-fifths or more of Gen Z (45%) and millennials (39%) believe they will not get a dime of the Social Security benefits they have earned.
The majority of Gen Z (76%) and millennials (76%) anticipate they will need to continue working in retirement because Social Security will not pay enough. However, the younger generations are more likely to turn to financial professionals for help. More than two in five (43%) Gen Z and 39% of millennials plan to ask a financial professional about Social Security benefits, compared to just 22% of Gen X and 6% of baby boomers.
Americans across generations lack critical Social Security education
Nearly half (49%) of U.S. adults 18+ say they know how to maximize their Social Security benefits. However, only 8% correctly identified all the listed factors that determine the maximum Social Security benefits an individual can receive.
Few know what age they are eligible for full retirement benefits. In fact, only 13% of adults correctly guess their full retirement age based on their year of birth. On average, Americans guessed 60 years of age and Gen Z and millennials guess 54 and 55, respectively. The correct age is either 66 or 67, depending on the year a person is born.
Another costly misconception is that almost half (49%) of adults don’t know or mistakenly believe that if they file for Social Security early then their benefits will automatically go up once they reach their full retirement age.
Other key knowledge gaps include:
- About half (51%) of adults do not know or are not sure what percentage of their income is or will be replaced in retirement by Social Security.
- More than two in five (42%) of those not currently receiving Social Security are not sure how much their monthly Social Security payments will be once they claim benefits.
- More than two-thirds of consumers (70%) do not know that Social Security is protected against inflation.
“Nearly four out of five Americans say that the Social Security system needs to change, while at the same time our research shows that most people don’t understand how the current system works,” Ambrozy continued. “We need to adopt a collaborative approach to preparing Americans for a financially secure retirement, drawing on the expertise and care of solution providers like Nationwide, public policymakers, and financial professionals across the country. Social Security is a complex system, and it can be difficult to know what you are entitled to. The past ten years of research have been about providing insights to aid that effort, and while we have made notable progress, we still have work to do.”
Nationwide offers a variety of resources to help. The Nationwide Social Security 360 Analyzer® can help financial professionals assess a client’s goals to better advise on the optimal time to claim Social Security. To learn how to optimize Social Security benefits, visit www.Nationwide.com/SocialSecurity. Financial professionals can visit www.NationwideFinancial.com/SocialSecurity.
The research was conducted online in the U.S. by The Harris Poll on behalf of Nationwide among 1,806 adults age 18+ who currently receive or expect to receive Social Security (“national sample”), including 300 Gen Z (age 18-26), 500 Millennials (age 27-42), 504 Gen Xers (age 43-58), and 502 Boomers+ (age 59+), and oversamples for a total of 532 Hispanic adults, 507 Black adults, and 105 Asian adults. The survey was conducted May 18 – June 13, 2023. Data are weighted where necessary age by gender, race/ethnicity, region, education, marital status, household size, household income and propensity to be online to bring them in line with their actual proportions in the population. To ensure the national sample was representative, the data were initially weighted by generation (Gen Z 18-26, Millennials 27-42, Gen Xers 43-58, and Boomers+ 59+) and then combined into a total age 18+ group. Data for age 50+ U.S. adults were weighted as needed by age by gender, race/ethnicity, region, education, household income, retirement status, and propensity to be online. Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in our surveys. The sampling precision of Harris online polls is measured by using a Bayesian credible interval. For this study, the sample data is accurate to within + 3.0 percentage points using a 95% confidence level. This credible interval will be wider among subsets of the surveyed population of interest. The sample data for the age 50+ adults is accurate to within + 4.2 percentage points using a 95% confidence level.
About The Harris Poll
The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys in the U.S. tracking public opinion, motivations and social sentiment since 1963 and is now part of Harris Insights & Analytics, a global consulting and market research firm that delivers social intelligence for transformational times. We work with clients in three primary areas: building 21st century corporate reputation, crafting brand strategy and performance tracking, and earning organic media through public relations research. Our mission is to provide insights and advice to help leaders make the best decisions possible. To learn more, please visit www.theharrispoll.com.
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