Most of the time, people don't really get a chance to start saving until after they graduate from college, he says.
Nonetheless, about 21 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 have a retirement account, but twice as many workers in that age group -- 42 percent -- say they expect to have more than enough money to retire in comfort.
"That is similar to what other studies have found," says Munnell, referring to the obvious disconnect between expectation and preparation. "The Employee Benefit Research Institute has the Retirement Confidence Survey every year and a number of people are more confident than you think they should be, given their level of savings."
The optimism spills over into the 25- to 34-year-old age group. By this age, 67 percent of workers have a retirement account and 37 percent believe they will have more than enough to retire in comfort. Only 12 percent fear that they will never be able to retire.
The outlook changes for people in midlife. Have the years made them more cynical -- or have life events occurred that make a rosy retirement less realistic? From ages 35 and up (including those over 65), 75 percent have an IRA or workplace retirement account, but only about 21 percent say that they will have more than enough to retire in comfort.
The haves and have nots
Another not-so-surprising revelation: A strong correlation exists between income levels and the likelihood of someone owning some type of retirement account. Example: Almost 90 percent of workers raking in $75,000 or more have some type of retirement account. But just 13 percent of those making less than $20,000 have one, though the number nearly quadruples to 50 percent in the next earnings echelon of $20,000 to $29,000.
Ages of those with an IRA or workplace retirement plan
Though high earners are the most confident of their retirement prospects, with 41 percent saying that they will have more than enough money to be comfortable, the poll reveals that the majority of people believe that they may not have enough.
"Roughly 70 percent feel they will get by, or worse, in retirement," observes Lunt. "Much like exercise, many folks participate because they know it's good for them, but few are training for a specific goal. Many folks participate in retirement savings, and know they need to do something, but also know they are falling well short."