An adequate retirement income can be defined as one that enables an older household to take care of its own needs in retirement.  Workers who retire without adequate sources of income may face a range of unattractive choices.

Continuing to work may be the first alternative, but if that is not an option due to bad health, lack of appropriate job opportunities or other factors, retirees may become dependent on family or even public assistance programs to meet financial needs.

Most Americans prefer to be able to meet their own needs after they stop working, so the question of how employees achieve retirement income adequacy is a pressing one, not just for individuals’ well-being, but for public policy as well.  It is probably not surprising that job-based retirement plans make a difference, but the particular importance of traditional pensions, so-called defined benefit (DB) pensions, in ensuring retirement readiness may be under-appreciated. DB pensions really do make a difference for working Americans in achieving an adequate standard of living in retirement as a reward for decades of hard work.

This brief reviews the evidence on the role DB pensions play in ensuring that older Americans have the resources they need to be self-sufficient in retirement.  It examines recent trends in pension coverage and discusses the effect these trends have had on the state of retirement readiness among American workers.  Finally, it points in the direction of areas worthy of exploration for policymakers seeking to address specific retirement security goals.