Most young people who do not go to college are high school graduates, and they too have lower earnings and greater family responsibilities during their thirties and forties. They also would like to borrow at younger ages to raise their consumption at these ages to more appropriate levels compared to their consumption when they are older.
Studies by my colleague Erik Hurst show that consumption of Americans beyond age 65 is generally not low relative to consumption at younger ages; apparently, they save enough when younger to enable them to consume generously when retired. In earlier time, families had to save to provide for their old age consumption since social security and company pensions were non-existent.
As a recent paper published by Britain’s Pensions Institute points out: for “financial products extending over long periods of time, many consumers are clearly not well-informed or well-educated. The retirement-savings decision needs accurate forecasts of lifetime earnings, asset returns, interest rates, tax rates, inflation and longevity; yet very few people have the skills to produce such forecasts.”
The result may be that many employees face retirement with an income well short of their expectations. An employee who pays into a DC scheme for 40 years may get only half the retirement income he could have expected under a final-salary system. When pension experts were polled by Watson Wyatt their biggest concern was that DC schemes will yield inadequate pensions for DC members. As the Pensions Institute paper says: “When the plan member eventually discovers how low his pension really is, it is by then too late to do anything about it.”