Northwestern Mutual
Planning & Progress Study 2019
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2019 marks the 10th year of the Planning & Progress Study – an annual research study from Northwestern Mutual that explores U.S. adults’ attitudes and behaviors toward money, financial decision-making, and the broader issues impacting people’s long-term financial security.

The Financial States of America: 2019 vs 2009


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In 2009, Northwestern Mutual commissioned a study among U.S. adults aged 25+ to explore their attitudes and behaviors toward money and financial decision-making, as well as their opinions about broader ideas such as the attainability of the American Dream. The project was ultimately named the "Planning & Progress Study" and has been conducted every year for the last decade.

To mark the 10-year milestone of the research, the Planning & Progress Study kicks off this year with a look back at the original cohort surveyed – people who were aged 25+ in 2009 and are 35+ today. The findings reveal deep changes in their attitudes toward money and risk.

For starters, overall financial security and financial habits have markedly improved:

  • 71% feel financially secure today vs. only 47% who felt financially secure in 2009
  • Compared to 10 years ago:
    • 73% say their financial situation is better now
    • 88% say their financial habits are better
    • 74% are carrying less debt
    • 74% are more frugal
    • 66% have set specific goals for the next 5-10 years, while only 57% said the same in 2009

Despite the stronger financial footing, Americans have gotten substantially more cautious over the last 10 years. Much of that can be pegged back to the financial crisis of 2008 – something that left a deep behavioral mark on people’s lives which extends well beyond finances.

When comparing today to how they felt during the financial crisis:

  • More than one-third (37%) of adults have become less comfortable today taking financial risks vs.18% who are more comfortable
  • A quarter (26%) have become less comfortable taking career risks vs.17% who are more comfortable; and
  • More than one-third (35%) have become less comfortable taking risks with their healthcare coverage vs. 13% who are more comfortable

 

Optimism remains flat

Despite the prolonged U.S. economic recovery over the last 10 years, American optimism has remained essentially flat since 2009. Among adults age 35 and older, the study found:

  • Just over half (54%) agree the American Dream is attainable for most Americans. That’s down slightly from the 58% who said the same in 2009. 
  • Nearly three-quarters (73%) believe a person can accomplish anything if they put their mind to it, but confidence was higher in 2009 when 82% said the same.
  • Two-thirds (65%) believe they will get to where they want to be in life, which is flat to the 65% who said the same in 2009. 
  • A little more than one-third (36%) believe the U.S. is generally headed in the right direction, which is an uptick from the 27% who said the same in 2009. But 44% feel the U.S. is not headed in the right direction, which is slightly more than the 40% who said the same 10 years ago.

 

Definitions of success

The attributes that best fit people’s definition of success continue to favor relationships, health and lifestyle over material, career and wealth. The top six attributes cited in 2019 include:

  1. (Tie) “Spending quality time with family”
  1. (Tie) “Being Healthy”
  1. “Having a good relationship with your spouse or partner”
  2. “Being financially prepared for the future” 
  3. “Having a good work/life balance”
  4. “Being a good parent”

 

Each of these far out-shadows things like “Earning a high income” (No.12), “Owning the home of your dreams” (No.11), and “Having nice belongings” (No.19).

In 2009, the answers were very similar with only slightly more priority going to work/life balance and slightly less to being financially prepared for the future.  The top six attributes were:

  1. “Spending quality time with family” 
  2. “Having a good relationship with your spouse or partner”
  3. “Being healthy”
  4. “Having a good work/life balance”
  5. “Being a good parent”
  6. “Being financially prepared for the future” 

 

Here again, these attributes were cited substantially higher than “Owning the home of your dreams” (No.15), “Earning a high income” (No.16), and “Having nice belongings” (No.19).

This is the first round of findings from the 2019 Planning & Progress Study, an annual research project commissioned by Northwestern Mutual that explores Americans’ attitudes and behaviors toward money, financial decision-making, and broader issues impacting people’s long-term financial security. Future waves will explore topics such as debt, retirement, the middle class, generational differences and more.

 

Read the news release

Download the 2019 Planning and Progress Study - The Financial States of America: 2019 vs 2009

Work and Retirement


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Lack of savings paints a disconcerting picture about financial preparedness in America with nearly a third (30%) of U.S. adults aged 18+ within three paychecks of needing to either borrow money or skip paying one or more bills. These are the latest findings from the 2019 Planning & Progress Study released today by Northwestern Mutual.  

According to the study, more than a fifth (22%) of Americans have less than $5,000 saved for retirement, and nearly half of working adults (46%) expect to work past the traditional retirement age of 65.

The annual study found:

  • More than one in five (22%) Americans have less than $5,000 saved for retirement, and 15% have no retirement savings at all. That’s an improvement from 2018 when 31% had less than $5,000 saved and 21% had no retirement savings at all.
  • While 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 every day, nearly one in five (17%) have less than $5,000 saved for retirement and 20% have less than $5,000 in personal savings. For Gen X, the numbers are greater -- 21% have less than $5,000 saved for retirement and 22% have less than $5,000 in personal savings.
  • More than half (56%) of Americans don’t know how much they’ll need to retire comfortably.
  • More than a fifth (22%) of non-retired U.S. adults believe it is not at all likely that Social Security will be available when they retire.
  • On average, people think there is a 45% chance they will outlive their savings, and 41% have taken no steps to address it.


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When I’m 65…I’ll Still Be Working

The 2019 Planning & Progress Study found that 46% of Americans expect to work past the traditional retirement age of 65.  Nearly one out of five Baby Boomers (18%) and an equal percentage of Generation X (18%) expect to work even longer -- past the age of 74.

Interestingly, more than half (53%) of Americans who expect to work past age 65 say it will be by choice, compared to 47% who say it will be out of necessity.

Among those who say they expect to work past age 65 out of necessity, the top three reasons why include:

  • “I won’t have enough saved to retire comfortably” (78%)
  • “I do not feel like Social Security will take care of my needs” (56%)
  • “I am concerned about rising costs like healthcare” (49%)

For those expecting to work past 65 by choice, the top three reasons why include:

  • “I enjoy my job/career and would like to continue” (58%)
  • “I want additional disposable income” (46%)
  • “It is a social outlet that will help me stay active/prevent boredom” (39%)


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An Interesting Juxtaposition

The latest set of findings from the 2019 Planning & Progress Study are an interesting juxtaposition against the first set of data from the study released in May. Those results suggest that U.S. adults aged 35+ feel their financial habits and financial security have improved over the last 10 years, while risk aversion continues to run high and optimism has remained flat.  It’s important to note that the sample used in the first set of findings – U.S. adults aged 35+ – is older than the sample used in this latest set of findings – U.S. adults aged 18+.  For more details about the age group in the first set of findings, see the press release here.

 

Read the news release

Download the 2019 Planning and Progress Study - Work and Retirement