November 7, 2022

How 4 Generations Think Differently About Retirement

The COVID-19 pandemic upended Americans' lives. In many cases, the pause on society affected retirement finances and plans. An October 2022 survey report from Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies and Transamerica Institute, "Emerging From the COVID-19 Pandemic: Four Generations Prepare for Retirement," examined the pandemic's impact on Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z.

The study focused on the experiences of employed workers of for-profit companies and the pandemic's impact on their lives. Transamerica surveyed over 5,000 participants in late 2021 when COVID-19 cases were surging, and many businesses were still undecided about on-site versus remote work.

The generations are divided by year of birth:

  • Generation Z: Born 1997 to 2012
  • Millennial: Born 1981 to 1996
  • Generation X: Born 1965 to 1980
  • Baby Boomer: Born 1946 to 1964

Participants were asked about a range of topics:

  • Impacts of the pandemic
  • Current financial situation
  • Visions and expectations of retirement, retirement savings, plans, and preparations.

Results varied significantly among the generations, and are outlined in the following article.

Millennials and Gen Xers are most likely to have changed their anticipated retirement date.

For 60% of workers, the pandemic has not changed their ideas about when they expect to retire. However, nearly one in three workers (32%) say that it has changed their retirement expectations, including 22% who expect to retire later and 10% who expect to retire earlier. Millennials (28%) and Gen Z (27%) were more likely to say that they expect to retire later due to the pandemic, compared with Gen X (18%) and Boomers (13%).


Saving for retirement is a top priority for Boomers and Gen X.

Workers most often cited financial priority as saving for retirement (56%), with older workers being more likely to cite this than younger workers (Boomers: 70%, Gen X: 66%, Millennials: 48%, and Gen Z: 35%). More than half of workers (58%) cite paying off one or more types of debt as a priority, including Millennials (60%), Gen X (58%), Gen Z (50%), and Boomers (52%). Building emergency savings was also frequently cited across generations (Gen Z: 42%; Millennials: 41%; Gen X: 40%; and Boomers: 35%).

Boomers are more confident about their ability to save for retirement.

51% of workers agreed with the statement "I don't have enough income to save for retirement," including 22% who "strongly agree" and 29% who "somewhat agree." Gen Z (57%), Millennials (56%), and Gen X (52%) were significantly more likely to agree with Boomers (39%).

Millennials are most concerned with debt's impact on retirement savings.

More than half (53%) of workers agreed with the statement, "Debt is interfering with my ability to save for retirement," including 21% who "strongly agree" and 32% who "somewhat agree." Millennials (61%) are significantly more likely to agree compared with Gen Z (53%), Gen X (51%), and Boomers (37%). More than one in four Millennials (26%) and one in five Gen Z workers (both 20%) "Strongly Agree" that debt was interfering with your ability to save for retirement.

Millennials and Gen Z dream of paid work in retirement.

Traveling, spending more time with family and friends, and pursuing hobbies were the most often cited retirement dreams for workers across generations. However, there were unique differences between them. Younger cohorts – Millennials (44%) and Gen Z (41%) – were significantly more likely to dream of doing some form of paid work in retirement (i.e., starting a business, pursuing an encore career, and/or continuing to work in the same field), compared with Gen X (31%) and Boomers (21%). More than one in four Gen Z workers (27%) dream of caring for their grandchildren in retirement. Just 9% of Boomers say they do not have any retirement dreams.

Boomers worry about Social Security's viability.

Workers often cited retirement fears – outliving savings and investments, reducing or eliminating Social Security in the future, and declining health that requires long-term care cost – differ across generations. Boomers (46%) are more likely than younger generations to fear reductions in or elimination of Social Security in the future. Gen X is somewhat more likely to stress the lack of access to adequate and affordable healthcare (28%). Gen Z, Millennials, and Gen X are more likely than Boomers to fear they will be unable to meet the basic needs of their family (33%, 32%, 31% versus 24%, respectively), and affordable housing (22%, 26%, 21% versus 14%, respectively).

More Boomers plan to work past 65.

Workers across all generations are concerned about their ability to save for retirement, with debt and the pandemic's impact on finances being the biggest obstacle. However, there are some key differences between Millennials and Boomers - while Boomers' confidence in their ability to retire is high, Millennials are more worried about debt's impact on their savings. Additionally, many Boomers plan to work past 65 due to concerns about Social Security's viability.


About half (49%) of workers expect to work past age 65 or do not plan to retire. Expectations of doing so increase with age. Seven in ten Boomers either expect to or are already working past 65 or do not plan to retire (70%), followed by Gen X (50%), Millennials (40%), and Gen Z (39%).

Gen Z workers are more likely than older generations to expect to retire before age 65 (43%). Approximately one in six workers across generations does not plan to retire (Get X: 13%; Millennials: 16%; Boomers: 17%; and Generation Z: 18%).

Millennials and Gen Z are more likely to tap retirement savings early.

A concerning percentage of workers are dipping into their retirement savings before they retire. Loans and withdrawals from retirement accounts can severely inhibit the growth of their long-term savings. More than 1/3 of workers (37%) have ever taken a loan, early withdrawal, and/or hardship withdrawal from their 401(k) or similar plan or IRA, including 27% who have taken a loan, and 26% who have taken an early and/or hardship withdrawal. Millennials (46%), Gen Z (41%), and Gen X workers (33%) are more than likely to dip into retirement savings over Boomers (24%).

Bottom Line

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