How Do You Compare To The Typical American?

Do you ever ask yourself “How Do You Compare To The Typical American?”

I know I’ve asked it in my mind, and I suspect most of you have asked it in yours.  Even if you’re a European, an Aussie, or a Korean friend, you could still ask yourself that question with a voyeuristic interest in how you compare to folks living in the USA.

Today, we’ll give you a chance to answer that question.

How Do You Compare To The Typical American? Today, you'll know. Click To Tweet

I read a fascinating study last week, and it led to the words I’m writing today.  I’ve outlined some of the key findings of the study in today’s post.   If you’d like to read the source survey, it’s: “The Typical American Financial Life”, which is a fascinating and wide-reaching study of 12,000 Americans.  All of the graphs in this post are from the study, which the author graciously agreed to let me share with you in today’s post.

Are You On Track For Your Age?

The survey starts with a bang, showing the “typical” ages at which Americans achieve certain financial milestones.  This is a great chart and shows why I was instantly intrigued by the survey.

Where do you compare vs. “typical” on these financial achievements?

Source for all graphics:

My Thoughts On Milestones:

  • $500k net worth by Age 39?  Seems better than I would have suspected of a “Typical American”.  I suspect the sample population of 1,200 was skewed a bit to those who have been more responsible with your finances than the “Typical American” population as a whole.  Regardless, that makes the findings even more interesting to me, since the “Typical” in this survey may actually be someone who cares about personal finance like you and I do.  Personally, I like comparing myself to that population rather than the American population as a whole, so I hope my thesis is correct.

How Does Your Home Ownership Stack Up vs. “Typical”?

If you’re a “typical” millennial, you have a 27% chance of being a homeowner.  That jumps to 86% for the typical Baby Boomer.  Wow, that’s a HUGE difference!

My Thoughts On Home Ownership:

  • Are We Facing A Cultural Shift In Home Ownership?  The stacked bars above are, to me, amazing statistics.  Look at the difference between Millenials and Baby Boomers!  Do you think only 27% of Baby Boomers owned homes when they were the age of current Millenials, or are we seeing a cultural shift away from home ownership?  With the “average age” of Millenials in the study cited as 27.8 years, they’re in the peak “home buying years”, so that 27% will certainly climb.  I wonder if it will climb to the 86% homeownership rate among Baby Boomers.  I suspect not.
Are we facing a cultural shift in home ownership? Only 27% of Millenials own a house vs. 86% for Baby Boomers! Click To Tweet

Retirement Readiness

Since you are, at this very moment, reading a personal finance blog about retirement, I suspect most of the readers of The Retirement Manifesto are ahead of the “typical” American when it comes to retirement readiness.

Let’s see how you stack up:

My Thoughts On Retirement Readiness:

  • More GenX’ers are saving for retirement than Baby Boomers!  While the numbers are close, the survey shows that GenX’ers are slightly ahead of Baby Boomers in retirement readiness!  While 59% of GenX’ers have started saving for retirement, only 58% of Baby Boomers can say the same thing.  It’s concerning to me that over 40% of Baby Boomers have not yet started saving for retirement!  Among Baby Boomers that haven’t yet started, the average age at which they plan to start saving for retirement is Age 60!  If you’re in that group, I hate to break it to you, but you’re in trouble.  On a positive note, it’s interesting to see the age at which folks who are saving started to contribute to their retirement savings.   Note the big spike in the Age 25 bar in the chart on the lower right.  Compounding will work it’s magic for a lot of people, and I sincerely hope you’re among folks in that group.  If not, you may want to read “It’s Never Too Late To Start Saving For Retirement”, the story of a couple who had $0 saved at Age 50, yet managed to retire at Age 65.
Over 40% of Baby Boomers Have Not Yet Started Saving For Retirement!! What Are They Waiting For? Click To Tweet

Feelings About Saving Money

Do feelings differ about saving money between men and women?  How about between savers vs. non-savers?  As you’d expect, there’s a big difference between those who have saved, and those who haven’t.  There’s not as much difference between men and women:

My Thoughts On Feelings:

  • Anxiety Vs. Happiness:  Need I say more?  Anxiety shows up for non-savers, regardless of sex.  It doesn’t make the top 3 among savers.  I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be Happy than Anxious.  Enough said.


So, how do you compare to the typical American?  I always enjoy the interaction in the comments and look forward to your thoughts on how you compare.  I suspect most of you will find yourself “above average”, based solely on the fact that you’re reading this post.

However, given that 42% of Baby Boomers have saved nothing for retirement, it’s almost certain that someone in your circle of acquaintances has $0 saved.  I suspect they’re anxious. Please consider sending them a copy of this post, and encourage them that it’s never too late to start.

BTW, I get a lot of emails from you, the reader, and I can’t tell you how good it makes you feel when someone tells you that you’re making a difference in their life (thanks for your recent note, Roger, it made my week!).  I love those emails, and I thank the many of you who have taken the time to write.

Look for areas where you can also influence a life for good, and see if you can gently coach someone who needs some help getting started with their retirement savings.

Let’s work together in…..

Helping People Achieve A Great Retirement!


  1. These are interesting. That first chart (the typical timeline) doesn’t jive with the others. If 42% of baby boomers have nothing saved for retirement, then how can the “typical” american have saved $500k by the time they’re 39? Most of the data that I’ve seen and that other bloggers have dug up paints a much more dire picture of retirement savings than the first chart would suggest, but who knows. Data can be skewed or cherry-picked.

    Interesting though, thanks for posting.

    1. Hey AF, you’re up early this morning! Regarding that first slide, I’m wondering if the survey folks are only including folks who have actually achieved $500k in that “Age 39” data? For example, it would make more sense for it to read, “Of folks who have achieved $500k or more, the average age for achieving this milestone was Age 39.

      That makes a lot more sense to me, and I suspect that’s what they’re trying to say with the data. I agree with you that the reality is dire for may Baby Boomers.

    2. I agree. The information seems “off” in comparison to other stories we’ve read. Its possible Fritz is on the right track – that this is about people who have achieved that mark (i.e. “people who have paid off their student loans, the average age is 28.5”).

      I think FI people could use some of the numbers to compare themselves with folks that have a financial “clue.” Still, everyone’s journey is different.

      Mr. 39 Months

    3. Considering that the median net worth for 65-69 year olds in the U.S. is only about $210k including home equity, then yes, this chart is incorrect. I think that Fritz’s explanation makes a lot of sense.

      I anticipate having a $500k net worth by around age 39, perhaps a bit before then. About half of that will be home equity since we’re working hard to pay off our mortgage (we’re very debt averse) before really ramping up our tax-advantaged accounts. Including the amount going to debt reduction, our gross savings rate is over 50%.

  2. I’m surprised with the $500k by 39 too!

    It is always interesting to me to see the “typical” charts in any area. I think the one that resonated most with me was the emotional response to saving vs. not saving. I still think I get anxious about finances, but the happiness typically wins out 🙂

    1. Mrs. AR, see comment above to AF re: the “Age 39” data point, I think I figured out what they meant.

      And, I agree with you, the “emotional” difference is interesting. While we all get anxious from time to time, think how much worse that would be if you were 55 and had $0 saved for retirement. We have a lot to be thankful for. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Ditto on the age 39 milestone.? love ya Fritzy but I’m not sure about these stats.

    I was just thinking about whether we should consider canceling our life insurance policies at age 60 because maybe we don’t need them. Now I read here the average age baby boomers plan to start saving for retirement is 60! That’s crazy talk!

    1. “Now I read here the average age baby boomers plan to start saving for retirement is 60! That’s crazy talk!”

      I agree, but I guess it’s possible. I FIREd at 52, but I have a friend who is 56 and she has saved zero for retirement. Plus she rents and owns no other assets. I’m seriously worried about people like her.

      1. I have a brother who is 55 and not only has very few assets, but tons of debt. He’s a “live for tomorrow” kind of guy and I honestly don’t think he believes he’ll be here in his 80’s (or maybe even his 70’s)… It’s not good.

    2. Glad you love me. I’m just reporting the news, not making it! (On the “$500k by Age 39, I suspect that’s “Of Folks who have achieved $500k, at what age did you achieve it?”).

      Good point on the life insurance. I bought term life to age 70, but that’s because the survivor benefit in my pension gets cut 1/3, and I wanted to give Jackie a cushion should I die young. Other than that, it would make sense to consider canceling the insurance.

  4. Wow, interesting insights for financial voyeurs like us 🙂 It turned out I am not anything like the typical American (unfortunately not in a positive way, but maybe the financial circumstances play a role in this). I assume that is because I am not typical and not American at all 😀 Also often have an identity crisis over these X and Y letters as I am a mixture (an XY, it is in my genes, literally…) in terms of both age and specifications.

  5. I’d agree that the first chart either really conflicts with many other studies or it is more skewed.

    Thanks for sharing this, it really is motivating to see how others are doing, getting you to think – “man could I do as well as they are?” “How can I start some small action today to be better?”

  6. Gosh, maybe the pre-Boomers got left out of the survey! We never had any student loans (I may have been the last person on the planet who started as a normal middle class student to go all the way through a Ph.D. and not owe a dime) and bought a house at 28 (we had to–we couldn’t afford to rent) with $845 down; but otherwise were very late bloomers in the semi-security game. In retrospect I’m glad nobody ever told me about those milestones, or I probably would have been clinically depressed by 39 and quit working. Well, maybe not.

    1. There’s a generation that’s older than Baby Boomers? 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by, John! And, congrats on being the last student ever to get through a Ph.D. without debt! (that’s become a real mess in our society these days, and I don’t like the development). Looking forward to seeing you when we do our Michigan loop in July! BTW, congrats on the new dog, a real cutie.

  7. Hey, isn’t comparison the thief of happiness? These stats were very interesting. I’m wondering if the high percentage of non-saving boomers has to do with defined-benefit pensions. Maybe a lot of boomers haven’t begun to save for retirement because they have access to a defined-benefit pension. Most of the guys at my government job were living paycheck-to-paycheck. But they were able to retire at 55 with paid healthcare and 75% of their final average salaries. For most guys, this meant an annual pension of $65-$70K. Well, I hope the failure of so many baby-boomers to save for retirement is the result of defined-benefit pensions. If it isn’t, these baby-boomers are going to die miserable and broke. Sad.

    1. I think Mr. G has hit on it. Although as a boomer my pension was eliminated my seventh year on the job, ( I think they cashed me out with $2,500!) the fact is a lot of my age folks do get pensions and live pretty well on them. I think the idea of saving a big nest egg in addition to a big pension never was a part of boomer mentality. I’d almost forgot that if my pension had kept going I’d be getting six figures the rest of my life. Hard to believe that used to be a real thing. My wife early retired a long time ago, she does get a teacher’s pension for nine years in the school system. However we haven’t figured out how we’d live on that $300 per month yet.

    2. EXCELLENT Point, Mr. G! Gold Star on the Concept-O-Meter (these meters are getting out of hand, I’ve gotta crush that Mr. WoW in the Comment-O-Meter!

      Seriously, excellent contribution to the discussion. I suspect you’re right, and a more realistic comparison between generations may have to include a Net Present Value estimate of the pension payment stream. The last of a long valued benefit, rapidly fading into the sun. But certainly an impact with some Boomers.

  8. Newbie here! I am blessed to be living on the financial discipline my wife had starting at 26’sh after she finished Law School completely debt FREE paying for it totally herself. YES, that is not the norm – neither is she! Her great-uncle Albert taught her that compounding is the “8th wonder of the world”! You just have to start.

  9. Fritz,

    I agree with your evaluation –

    From the Comet article :
    “ Those who amassed a personal wealth of $500,000 or more did so at an average age of almost 40”.
    Those that HAD amassed $500K did so by 39… Not by 39 the average person had amassed $500K .

  10. Statistics. Gotta love em. It looks like the “average” might be skewed for the 500K net worth. The data is spread out much more than the rest. This means that it’s NOT typical. For instance, if we just had 2 people in the sample and one was 20 and the other was 60, we would get a similar result. I suspect the biggest effect on the net worth numbers is that current housing and stock market prices have skyrocketed. Hmm. I wonder what the data looked like in 2006.

    1. We figured out the “skew” on $500k after I wrote the post: The question in the survey was: “For those who have achieved $500k in savings, at what age did you achieve it?” Makes a LOT more sense that way. And I agree, the numbers have certainly improved with the recent Bull markets in equities & housing.

      Thanks for stopping by! Still excited for you with your new blog, and glad I had a small role to play in that!

  11. I’m a baby boomer and had no idea what my credit score was at age 26 and suspect my friends didn’t either. We knew it was important to pay bills on time and maintain “good credit” but virtually nobody outside of a banker was privy to his/her own financial information back in those days.

    It seems unhelpful to dump 50 years of statistics together using absolute rather than relative dollars. Inflation statics show that when I was 27 (1980), $3K was equivalent to $10K today. Did my friends and I each have $10K of savings in 1980? Not necessarily, but nearly all of us had at least $3K.

    1. Great point about nominal vs. real dollar values. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

      And, for the record, I didn’t have a clue what my credit score was at Age 26, either. I suspect folks these days are more tuned in to that, given all the headlines like Equifax data breach, etc.

  12. I agree that the first chart doesn’t seem very “Typical American” especially the $500k stat. I do enjoy looking at these reports though. Oy, those Boomers, and even the Gen X’ers. I hope they get to it soon!

    1. Many of my fellow Boomer retirees have some sort of pension. I once read that 40% of all Boomer couples will have at least one member with some sort of pension. For my household, my airline industry pensions plus SS benefits for two would be sufficient for our non-discretionary spending. We do have significant savings, but we would not be destitute had we not.

  13. It’s funny that people like to preach that you’re not in a competition against others, but it’s still intriguing to see how you stack up against your peers.

    I agree with your sentiment that the sample population used looks to be more financially apt folks since these aren’t the kinds of numbers we’re used to seeing out there. However, I’d definitely like to see people starting to do this well in their financial lives!

    — Jim

  14. I like your observations about this survey. However, I am not too convinced this is “typical.” I would certainly like to know more about this random group of 1200 people. Also, 1200 seems to be a very small sample size to call the results typical of a population of 250 million that are at least 18 years old.

    1. Ah, I see we have a statistician in the house! I agree that 1200 is too small a sample for any kind of reasonable margin of error, but it sure is fun to look, right? (BTW, I did some statistical work for my college major, did a big survey for the Economic Development Council in a small Midwestern town. I loved that project, and I got an “A”!).

  15. Thanks for sharing these great statistics! Your explanation in the comments about the average age at which people achieved a $500k net worth makes sense to me.

    As a member of Gen X, I was most excited to see that my cohort is slightly ahead of the Baby Boomers in saving for retirement. Gen X being ahead of Millennials at this point makes sense since they are younger, but I think this is one of the only statistics I have ever seen where Gen X is outpacing both the generation older than us and the generation younger than us.

    1. THANK YOU, ROMT! I, too, thought the over-performance of Gen X vs. Baby Boomers was one of the highlights of the study. Glad you made a point of it!

      When I think back on this survey, I’ll have two takeaways: 1) The $500k question was confusing and 2) Gen X’ers are ahead of Baby Boomers!

  16. The housing thing is really interesting. Personally, I think Millennials would like to own homes too. It’s just been more difficult for them than the previous generations. They had to go through the Great Recession just as they got out of school. I think they also are starting a family a bit later. Once they have kids, most people would prefer the suburb.
    I’d be interesting to see how it plays out. I think they will catch up at some point.

    1. Joe, I suspect you’re right in the statement that Millennials would like to own homes. With student loan debt and lower real wages, perhaps they’re just getting a later start than earlier generations. Good point about kids being a trigger point for many. Time will tell…..

  17. Interesting, according to that first graph ‘ The Typical Financial Timeline’ I trail the typical American in every category … excluding ‘paid off student loans’ only because I never took out any student loans as the Montgomery GI Bill paid my way. Although I’m skeptical of a lot of the numbers – because my experience and research tells me I’m significantly ahead of most Americans – it is interesting to get a look at how I might compare to the ‘typical’ American. If nothing else, information like this can offer some insight into how you are doing, particularly within the context of similar income, age, etc. At the end of the day though, what’s most important is to develop a financial/retirement plan that fits your unique income, wants and needs.

  18. Baby boomer here, and government employee, depending on what age I retire, I will receive a pension. If I work until I am 65, the pension, plus social security will equal my take home now. I expect to pay a little more in health care coverage though, even with Medicare, which is why I refuse to retire until I am 65 and qualify for Medicare. At least medicare will offset a lot of the costs.

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