Average 401(k) balance by age, income, and gender

09 average 401k balanceAre you curious about how your 401(k) balance compares to others in your age group, income bracket, or gender? This guide dives into the data to provide insights into the average 401(k) balance for different demographics.

One of the biggest parts of the proverbial American Dream is retirement. Seeing where you stack up against the average 401(k) balance can be encouraging or daunting, depending on where you are on your retirement savings journey.

Vanguard found the average 401(k) balance was $​141,542 at the end of 2021 — however, the median 401(k) balance was significantly lower than the average at $35,345. Therefore, answering the question of, how much should I have in my 401(k) can be complicated. A few ultra-high balance 401(k)s can really skew the results. A better benchmark is to drill into the details to see where average (and median) balances fall regarding age, income levels, or even gender.

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Average 401(k) balance by age

Vanguard breaks down the average 401(k) balance by age based on various age ranges. The average 401(k) balance based on age does, as you might expect, steadily increase with each age range. For example, the average 401(k) balance for those 25 years old and younger is $6,264, and for individuals 25 to 34, it’s $37,211. 

Age

Average 401(k) Balance

Median 401(k) Balance

< 25

$6,264

$1,786

25 to 34

$37,211

$14,068

35 to 34

$97,020

$36,117

45 to 54

$179,200

$61,530

55 to 64

$256,244

$89,716

65+

$279,997

$87,725

Source: Vanguard data from 2021

Average 401(k) balance under 25 years old: $6,264
Median balance: $1,786

The average 401(k) balance for individuals younger than 25 years old is $6,264 and the median balance is $1,786 — this is the lowest amount of all the age groups, as expected. This group includes teenagers and individuals just getting started in their careers.

Average 401(k) balance 25 to 34 years old: $37,211
Median balance: $14,068

Individuals 25 to 34 years old have an average 401(k) balance of $37,211 and a median balance of $14,068. The numbers are a big jump from the previous group — those younger than 25 — with a nearly fivefold increase in the average balance.

Major life expenses and potential student loan debt likely limit 401(k) balance growth for this group. Most individuals are still relatively early on in their income-generating years.

Average 401(k) balance 35 to 44 years old: $97,020
Median balance: $36,117

The 35 to 44-year-old group has an average 401(k) balance of $97,020. The median balance for this group is $36,117. The average 401(k) balance increases a hefty 2.6x from those 25 to 34, but it’s also likely limited by lifestyle creep and additional major expenses, such as first-time home buying. The average age of first-time homebuyers is the highest it’s ever been at 36 years old.

Average 401(k) balance 45 to 54 years old: $179,200
Median balance: $61,530

The average 401(k) balance among 45 to 54-year-olds is $179,200 and the median balance is $61,530. This increase in balances is the largest of all the group sets. Individuals from this group are in their prime wage-earning years and also enjoy the allowed catch-up contributions that kick in at 50 years old.

For example, in 2023, the 401(k) contribution limit is $22,500. But the catch-up contribution amount allowed for individuals 50 and older is $7,500, allowing for a total 401(k) contribution of up to $30,000. The catch-up contribution allows older individuals that might be running behind with their retirement savings to “catch up.”

Average 401(k) balance 55 to 64 years old: $256,244
Median balance: $89,716

The 55 to 64-year-old group has an average 401(k) balance of $256,244. The group’s median 401(k) balance is $89,716. This group has one of the largest increases in 401(k) balances as individuals continue to move up the income ladder. Individuals in this group are likely making a major push toward retirement and taking full advantage of catch-up contributions.

Average 401(k) balance 65+ years old: $279,997
Median balance: $87,725

The average 401(k) balance for individuals 65 and older is $279,997, with the median coming in at $87,725. The percentage increase in the average 401(k) balance from the 55 to 64-year-old group is the smallest of all the group sets. Note that the median 401(k) balance decreases from the 55 to 64 group to the 65+ group.

This group is past the 59½ age limit for making penalty-free 401(k) withdrawals. The median balance for this group likely starts to decline as retirees are pulling money from their retirement accounts to fund living expenses.

Additionally, portfolio allocations for this group will start to rebalance to more conservative investments, compared to stocks.

Average 401(k) balance by income levels

Like the average 401(k) balance by age, balances based on income levels tend to steadily increase. The higher the income, the higher the average 401(k) balance, for the most part. The table below breaks down 401(k) balances by income ranges from $15,000 to $150,000 in $15,000 increments.

Annual Income

Average 401(k) Balance

Median 401(k) Balance

< $15,000

$26,759

$3,341

$15,000 to $29,999

$17,101

$4,678

$30,000 to $49,999

$31,546

$10,665

$50,000 to $74,999

$76,851

$32,842

$75,000 to $99,999

$133,701

$65,201

$100,000 to $149,999

$219,651

$116,223

$150,000+

$397,882

$225,478

Source: Vanguard data from 2021

Of note, the only decrease in average 401(k) balances is from those making less than $15,000 and the $15,000 to $29,999 group. This decrease likely comes as part-time retirees that have larger 401(k) balances skew the group average.

The largest dollar gap is between the $100,000 to $149,999 group and the $150,000+ group, which is to be expected, as the $150,000+ also includes ultra-high income earners.

But the biggest jump, percentage-wise, over the previous income group is for the $50,000 to $74,999 group. Those in that income level have an average balance that's almost 134% higher than the $30,000 to $49,999 group, suggesting that $50,000 is a key level for being able to generate discretionary income that can be used for retirement savings.

Average 401(k) balance by gender

The average 401(k) balance also differs based on gender. Males have an average and median 401(k) balance that’s roughly 46% greater than females. In particular, the average balance for males is $170,942, while the average balance for females is $118,849.

GenderAverage 401(k) BalanceMedian 401(k) Balance
Male$170,942$45,106
Female$118,849$31,291
Source: Vanguard data from 2021
The biggest differences, both in absolute dollar amounts and percentages, between male and female 401(k) balances are at the higher income levels. For example, the average 401(k) balance for men with annual incomes of $150,000 or more is almost 30% that of women in the same income bracket.

Average 401(k) Balance by Gender

Annual Income

Female

Male

< $15,000

$20,984

$36,784

$15,000 to $29,999

$16,833

$20,727

$30,000 to $49,999

$33,977

$34,268

$50,000 to $74,999

$78,348

$83,030

$75,000 to $99,999

$135,154

$142,777

$100,000 to $149,999

$215,386

$242,258

$150,000+

$359,968

$466,782

Source: Vanguard data from 2021

How much should I contribute to my 401(k)?

According to Fidelity, the 401(k) savings rate — including employee and employer match contributions — was 13.7% of pre-tax income in the fourth quarter of 2022. Unsurprisingly, ‌older generations had the highest savings rates, while younger generations had the lowest. Boomers put 16.5% of their pre-tax income toward their 401(k)s, while Gen Z contributed 10.2%.

Beyond that, the savings rate increases as income levels rise and as job tenure lengthens. But more interestingly, men continue to have a higher 401(k) savings rate than women. The average savings rate for men was 14.4%, while women saved 13.5%.

Overall, the gold standard on how much you should be contributing to your 401(k) is 15% of your pre-tax income. Note that this guideline does include employer match.

A 15% savings rate typically assumes you'll need a 401(k) balance that's roughly 10 times your annual salary by the time you reach 67 years old and wish to maintain your lifestyle during retirement.

Saving 15% of your retirement income each year is generally the best way to be able to hit that goal. From there, you can adjust accordingly. If you plan to retire sooner, you may need to increase your savings rate. Or if you plan to travel a lot during retirement, your rate may need to be increased as well.

Finding your savings rate

There are a few factors that'll determine your 401(k) savings rate. In particular, your age and how much you've saved for retirement already. For example, say you’re 32 years old, make $60,000 a year, and have saved $70,000 for retirement — then contributing 15% of your pre-tax income puts you on track for retirement. However, if you’re 39 years old and with $25,000 saved for retirement, but making $90,000 per year — a 25% savings rate is more appropriate.

The earlier you start, the easier it is. However, even if you’re getting started later, you can still catch up by increasing your savings rate. You can get an idea of your current savings rate with an online savings rate calculator.

Note that you can adjust your contribution rate if you have an employer match. If your employer matches 4% of your contributions, and you are on track to meet your retirement goals with a 15% annual 401(k) contribution, you can adjust your contribution rate from 15% to 11%.

Ways to improve your 401(k) savings

The sooner you start, the more time your investments will have to grow. But if you find yourself falling behind on retirement savings, there are ways to avoid a retirement disaster.

Firstly, don’t overlook the various retirement accounts at your disposal. In addition to 401(k)s, you can also leverage IRAs, which come in handy for higher-income earners that might be pushing the 401(k) contribution limit.

Traditional 401(k)s and IRAs are tax-advantaged accounts where contributions are made on a pre-tax basis — meaning you’ll get a tax break. That money will grow tax-free until you need to withdrawal during retirement.

Another way to improve performance is to choose investment funds that best suit your risk tolerance, financial situation, and retirement goals. Most 401(k) plans include a menu of diverse investment options.

If you already work with a financial advisor, you should ask them for input on your 401(k) portfolio allocations. If you aren’t working with an advisor, you may consider meeting with one and discussing the best portfolio options to meet your retirement goals.

Other things you should consider include:

  • Employer matching equates to “free” money. With 401(k) contributions, make sure you’re taking advantage of company matching, which is essentially free money added to your 401(k).

  • Plan to boost savings. This can be as simple as increasing your 401(k) savings rate by 1% each year. Increasing your retirement savings rate by 1% can make a big difference in the long run. As a basic example, let’s assume you’re starting with $0 in your 401(k) and have an annual income of $50,000 a year for the next 10 years. Let’s also assume the long-term average return on your portfolio is 10%. With a 15% savings rate, you’ll have saved almost $125,000. If you boost your rate by 1% to 16%, you’ll have over $133,000.

  • Don’t forget to play catch-up. If you’re 50 or older, take advantage of catch-up contributions. This will allow you to set aside more as you get closer to retirement.

  • Be flexible with retirement. This includes delaying your planned retirement by working a few additional years or working part-time during retirement.

  • Consider getting some help. If you’re having trouble getting started, or lack the time to commit, talk with a professional to get a better idea of your options.

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If you’re like most Americans, you’ve got a lot on your plate. It’s tough to think about or properly plan for retirement, especially when it's several years or decades away. 401(k)s are just one part of the retirement puzzle. There'll be years you can save for retirement more than others, and financial demands will change — whether it be career changes, new investment opportunities, home improvements, children, or aging parents.

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Marshall Hargrave
Written byMarshall HargraveContributing writer

Marshall Hargrave is a former SEC-registered investment adviser who is now a strategy consultant for fintech companies.