The University Record, September 3, 1996

Older boomers better off financially than most people think

By Diane Swanbrow
News and Information Services

Baby boomers born between 1945 and 1954 have saved more than most people think, according to a U-M study.

These "senior" boomers were worth about $164,278 by 1994 when they were in their forties, just $25,000 shy of what people 10 years older had accumulated by the same stage of life.

That finding, from the U-M Panel Study of Income Dynamics, runs counter to the widespread impression that high-living boomers have been spending more than they're saving, and will be in trouble when it's time to retire.

"The senior baby boom generation, because of their favorable pension coverage, may turn out to have more overall wealth than the prior generation or the following junior boomers or later generations," says Frank M. Stafford, professor of economics and senior research associate at the Institute for Social Research (ISR).

Stafford co-directs the Panel Study of Income Dynamics with sociologist Sandra Hofferth. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the study contains long-term information on the economic and demographic behavior of a representative sample of U.S. individuals, now numbering more than 40,000, and spanning as much as 28 years of their lives. It has been conducted at ISR since 1968.

Senior boomers saw their mean wealth increase from $104,292 in 1984 to $139,897 in 1989 and $164,278 in 1994, reports Stafford.

Although the baby boom cohort as a whole may be saving more than other generations, Stafford notes, older boomers are doing much better financially than junior boomers, who are now between the ages of 32 and 41. In 1994, junior boomers had mean wealth of only $90,882, compared to $104,292 that senior boomers had saved by the same age.

Among other major patterns emerging from the study of wealth dynamics among American families:

 

By 1994, about 22 percent of American families did not have checking, savings or other transaction accounts at banks or savings and loan associations, compared to about 19 percent in 1984.

 

Credit and charge card balances rose sharply during the period, from a mean of $2,754 in 1984 to $6,293 in 1994.

 

The large gap between the financial wealth of African-American and other households persisted during the period analyzed, narrowing only slightly.

 

The mean wealth of 45- to 54-year-olds was $316,109 in 1989 and only rose to $328,325 five years later. "Possibly this stallout in the rise in mean wealth reflects the rapidly rising costs of college and the deteriorating job market for their adult children," Stafford notes, "leading to erosion of their net worth."

"Wealth Dynamics of American Families, 1984-1994," was co-authored by ISR researchers Erik Hurst and Ming Ching Luoh. The full text is available on the World Wide Web at http:/www. umich.edu/~psid/. Click on "What's New."