New National Institute on Retirement Security Analysis Finds Average Amount of Student Loan Debt held by Gen Xers Is $40,000

Persistence of Student Loan Debt May be Hindering Generation X’s Retirement Savings 

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 28, 2023 – A new analysis from the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) finds 13 percent of working Gen Xers still have student loan debt.  The average amount of student loan debt held by Gen Xers is slightly more than $40,000, and the median amount is $25,000. The research also finds that Gen Xers with student loan debt have lower net worths and are more likely to fall short of their retirement savings targets, at least in part due to student loan debt. As a result, student loan debt has negative retirement implications for these workers.

The findings are contained in a new fact sheet, The Impact of Student Loan Debt on Retirement Preparedness for Generation X. This fact sheet is a supplement to a recent NIRS report, The Forgotten Generation: Generation X Approaches Retirement, authored by Tyler Bond, NIRS research director, Celia Ringland, NIRS research associate, and Joelle Saad-Lessler, Stevens Institute associate professor and associate dean of undergraduate studies. This report found a dismal retirement outlook for Generation X, the first generation to enter the labor market following the shift from defined benefit pension plans to 401(k)-style defined contribution accounts.

Read the fact sheet.

Read the report.

“Gen Xers are fast approaching retirement age, so it’s troubling that some are still carrying student loan debt,” said Tyler Bond, NIRS research director. “The good news is that attending college has increased Gen Xers’ earning power and access to workplace retirement plans. But every dollar they continue to spend on college loans is money that could have been invested in their retirement. Retirement is going to be a nightmare for too many Gen Xers, and those who continue to have the burden of debt could be saving more for this major challenge,” Bond said.

The new analysis also finds:

  • The typical Gen X household with student loan debt has $40,000 in retirement savings, which is the same as Gen X as a whole. However, the average amount of retirement savings is consistently lower for Gen X households with student loan debt than those without. This suggests that the persistence of student loan debt may be hindering retirement savings.
  • Gen Xers with student loan debt have higher sponsorship rates (76%) and participation rates (66%) in employer-sponsored retirement plans.
  • Fifty-nine percent of Gen Xers with student loan debt are white. It should be noted that 62 percent of all Gen Xers are white.
  • Asian American Gen Xers are the least likely to have student loan debt.
  • Blacks represent ten percent of Generation X as a whole, but they represent 22 percent of Gen Xers with student loan debt.
  • Women account for a greater portion of Gen Xers with student loan debt than men: 60 percent vs. 40 percent.
  • Higher-earning Gen Xers are more likely to have student loan debt.

Generation X is defined as those born between 1965 and 1980. As of December 2020, Gen X represented almost 64 million Americans, or nearly 20 percent of the population.The analysis relies upon data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), a nationally representative longitudinal survey that provides comprehensive information on the dynamics of income, employment, household composition, and government program participation.

The National Institute on Retirement Security is a non-profit, non-partisan organization established to contribute to informed policymaking by fostering a deep understanding of the value of retirement security to employees, employers, and the economy as a whole. Located in Washington, D.C., NIRS membership includes financial services firms, employee benefit plans, trade associations, and other retirement service providers. More information is available at