Poll: Americans Not Planning for the Future

ByAnalysis By Gary Langer

N E W   Y O R K, Aug. 26, 2002 -- When it comes to planning for the future, many Americans talk a good game — but far fewer have taken specific action.

Seventy-two percent in an ABCNEWS poll say they're planning and preparing for life as they get older.

But when it comes to specifics the numbers fall sharply, with only around half saying they've prepared for emergency expenses, college tuition for kids or adequate retirement income.

And many lack a will, living will or health care proxy.

Varying Degrees of Preparation

Indeed, while seven in 10 say they've planned and prepared, only about half that number — 35 percent of Americans — say they've done "a great deal" to prepare for the future. That suggests that many have not taken substantive action.

Follow-ups confirm it: Barely over half, 52 percent, say they've planned and prepared for retirement income, or for emergency expenses like the loss of a job.

Fewer than half those with children under 18, 45 percent, have prepared for college expenses. And in each case only about a fifth say they've done "a great deal" of preparation.

In areas of specific action, 74 percent have life insurance, but far fewer — 50 percent — have a will, and fewer still, 42 percent, have a living will or health care proxy.

In a positive trend, the number of people who have a living will or health care proxy has grown sharply in recent years, from 17 percent in 1991 to 34 percent in 1999 and 41 percent now. The numbers who have a will, or have life insurance, have held steady.

Most Likely to Look Ahead

Income, naturally, is a very strong factor in many of these, with people who are better-off financially much more likely to say they've planned and prepared to deal with future expenses.

For example, among Americans with household incomes of more than $75,000 a year, 75 percent say they've planned for retirement expenses; among those with incomes less than $30,000 that dives to 26 percent.

Higher-income people are also much more likely to have life insurance, and somewhat more likely to have wills — but no more apt to have living wills or health-care proxies.

Driving Factors

Other, related factors show similar influence. People who are better-educated, married, and older in most cases are more likely — sometimes substantially more likely — to be preparing and planning for expenses as they get older.

For instance, among people who haven't gone beyond high school, 43 percent have prepared for retirement expenses; among college graduates, that jumps to 72 percent.

Marriage — which in many cases provides dual-incomes — is a very strong factor. Among unmarried people just 38 percent say they've planned for retirement income; among marrieds this jumps to 63 percent.

Age is an especially strong factor in retirement planning, and even more so in having a will or a living will.

Among people 37 and under (the post-baby-boom generations), 28 percent have a will; this rises to 55 percent of baby boomers, and rises again to 76 percent of people born before the baby boom (age 57 and up).

Income is so strong a factor that it effectively splits the huge baby boom population roughly into two — half with family incomes less than $50,000 a year, half more.

Upper-income boomers are far more likely than their lower-income counterparts to be preparing for their older years. Even in the broadest (and apparently most optimistic) self-assessment, 82 percent of upper-income boomers say they're preparing for life as they get older, compared to 61 percent of lower-income boomers.


This ABCNEWS poll was conducted by telephone July 31-Aug. 4 among a random national sample of 1,024 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Fieldwork was conducted by TNS Intersearch of Horsham, Pa.

Previous ABCNEWS polls can be found in our Poll Vault.