PRINCETON, NJ -- Middle-aged Americans are more likely than those younger and older to worry about personal financial issues. Within this broad middle-aged category, those aged 50 to 64 are either as likely as or more likely than those aged 30 to 49 to worry about most financial problems. The single exception is the issue of paying for college -- about which the younger middle-aged group worries significantly more.
These data are from Gallup's Economy and Personal Finance survey, conducted annually since 2001. This year's survey includes 2,017 interviews, conducted April 4-14. The survey shows that 45% of all Americans rate their financial situations as excellent or good and 47% say their finances are getting better, improved somewhat from recent years -- but still not recovered to the solid majority levels generally measured before 2008. As part of the survey, Gallup asked Americans how much they worry about eight different personal financial matters, which revealed that overall, retirement remains their top concern.
Middle-aged Americans are more worried than those younger and older about most of the eight financial issues. But those aged 18 to 29 are roughly as worried about not being able to pay the rent or mortgage, and not being able to pay monthly bills. And those aged 50 to 64 are particularly worried about maintaining their standard of living.
The top worries in age group differ slightly:
- All in all, the top financial worries for those aged 18 to 29 are not having enough money to pay for medical costs in an emergency a severe illness, not having enough money for retirement, and not being able to maintain their standard of living.
- The top three worries among those aged 30 to 49 are not having enough money for retirement, paying for a medical emergency, and paying for children's college costs.
- The top three worries among those aged 50 to 64 are paying for retirement, paying for a medical emergency, and maintaining their current standard of living.
- The top three worries among those aged 65 and older are the same as for those 50 to 64, although medical costs are No. 1, and in all instances there are significantly lower levels of overall worry.
BIG TRENDS: Read more in our ongoing series The New American Consumer
Financial Worries Decrease With Income, With Two Exceptions
Worry about the eight financial issues generally decreases as household income increases, as would be expected. Worry is highest -- in some instances, by small amounts -- for those making less than $30,000 across all eight concerns, and is lowest in all cases except paying for college among those making $100,000 and over, though again, some differences are small. Compared with the other concerns, worry about retirement and about paying for children in college are relatively flat across income categories.
Middle-aged Americans generally worry more about personal financial issues than do young adults or seniors. Presumably, young Americans have yet to face many of the financial challenges that come with having a family or buying a home, while older Americans are mostly retired and are receiving Social Security and Medicare, and anticipate fewer life changes that would disrupt their financial situations.
Worry appears to achieve its highest points in the 50- to 64-year-old age range, perhaps because this group feels vulnerable to potential job losses, even while getting closer to retirement. Still, by the time Americans reach this age group, concern about one issue -- paying for children in college -- drops significantly compared with concern among those aged 30 to 49.
Additionally, the more money an American makes, the less likely he or she is to worry about financial issues. But high incomes do not shelter Americans from all financial worries. Even those in the highest income categories evince concern about retirement and paying for college educations at levels that are quite similar to those of Americans with lower incomes.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted April 4-14, 2013, with a random sample of 2,017 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphone numbers are selected using random digit dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.