How Do Americans Really Save for Retirement?

Diversifying your retirement portfolio is always good, but do we do it? From August 9-11, 2022, GOBankingRates polled 997 Americans ages 18 and older to determine what they are investing in for retirement. The survey included 16 questions regarding various financial matters, with one, in particular, focusing on the assets in respondents’ retirement accounts. Multiple responses were permitted based on each survey respondent’s portfolio components. The results were filtered using several different criteria, including age and gender. Respondents stated that they had eight different types of investments and/or accounts. The survey’s highlights are broken down by individual asset class or account type.


Cryptocurrency has been the top asset class on financial news shows for the past several years, partly because of its volatility and the fact that it’s a relatively new investment. Unsurprisingly, a sizable proportion of poll respondents – 21% — stated that they held cryptocurrency. This percentage remained fairly consistent across age groups, with 20% to 29% of respondents aged 18 to 54 admitting ownership. Only beyond the age of 55 did crypto ownership fall to 8% of those aged 55 to 64 and slightly under 8% of those aged 65 and above.

The most significant variance in cryptocurrency ownership was linked to sex. Only 12% of women said they owned cryptocurrency, compared to nearly 30% of men, or more than double.


Men and women reported owning real estate in nearly equal numbers – a little under 24%. The most startling number on real estate is that 31% of people aged 18 to 24 reported ownership, the second-highest percentage in any age group, after only those aged 65 and older (32%). Almost 16% of people aged 35 to 44 said they owned real estate, the lowest proportion of any age group.


Stocks were the most preferred asset class option across all age groups. Approximately 34% to 45% of respondents said they held stocks. Ownership was more popular with males, as 47% reported holding stocks compared to just 32% of women.


Bond ownership was reported by 21% of respondents, the same percentage as crypto ownership. Bonds are owned by 25% more males than by 16% more women. Bonds are often considered a more conservative investment, so it’s not surprising that individuals 55 and older made up the majority of bond owners. However, the margin was not significant. Positive responses ranged from 18% of those aged 18 to 24 to 24% of those aged 55 to 64.


Annuities are often owned by older Americans more than younger ones, as withdrawals before age 59 ½ are subject to early withdrawal penalties. This fact is mirrored in the poll results. Ownership grew from 5% of those 18 to 24 to 17% of those 55 to 64 and 22% of those 65 and older. Annuities are owned by somewhat more males than women, with 13% and 9%, respectively.

ETFs and index funds

Despite the praise for index funds and ETFs, only a tiny minority of survey respondents reported ownership. Even though billionaire Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and the “Oracle of Omaha,” feels that index funds are the greatest investment for most investors, just 10% of respondents possess them, a percentage that is pretty stable by age group. However, by a 14% to 7% difference, males reported ownership more than twice as much as women.


Because gold is frequently employed by speculators or those seeking to hedge the inflation risk in their portfolios, it’s not unexpected that a small percentage of survey respondents possess it. Overall, just 10% of survey participants hold gold, which is a low number but comparable to those who own index funds and ETFs. The gender disparity in gold ownership, on the other hand, is enormous. Only 7% of women reported owning gold, compared to 14% of men.


With a staggering 52% of respondents replying yes, ownership of a 401(k) or IRA received the greatest favorable reaction in the study. More than half of respondents in each age category said they had a 401(k) or an IRA, except for those aged 18 to 24, where positive responses were just 33%. By 56% to 47%, more women than males have a 401(k) or IRA.