Americans Mixed on 2024 Economic Outlook, Plan to Invest Anyway

Even with reservations, there are smart ways to invest and plan.
Andrew Marder
By Andrew Marder 
Published
Edited by Arielle O'Shea

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Investing has become more common than ever, with the Federal Reserve showing that a higher percentage of Americans owned stock in 2022 than ever before. A recent NerdWallet survey finds that many Americans are planning to invest in 2024, even though outlooks on the economy are mixed.

A survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults, conducted online by The Harris Poll, asked Americans how optimistic they are about the economy in 2024 and what their investing plans are. We also asked how comfortable they feel with investing products and approaches.

Key takeaways

  • Many Americans plan to invest in 2024. About half (51%) of Americans say they plan to invest outside of retirement accounts in 2024, while 60% say they'll invest in tax-advantaged investments.

  • Economic outlook is mixed. While around 6 in 10 Americans are optimistic about their household's income growth (62%) and the job market (59%), outlooks for other areas are less clear. Half (50%) of Americans are optimistic about the stock market, and even fewer are optimistic about the real estate market (46%) and inflation (37%).

  • There's a gender gap in investing comfort. While 58% of men say they're comfortable managing stock investments, just 41% of women say the same. Similar gaps exist for retirement planning, real estate investing and cryptocurrency. 

Economic outlook for 2024

Americans are mixed on their outlooks for the economic landscape in 2024. Most (62%) say they're optimistic about their own household income growth and the job market (59%). Unsurprisingly, baby boomers are least optimistic about their income growth, likely because so many are no longer working. According to the Transamerica Institute, about 3 in 5 baby boomers are retired.

Younger Americans have a rosier view of their income growth, with 66% of Generation Z, 67% of millennials and 64% of Generation X saying they're either slightly or very optimistic.

The stock and real estate markets bring out less enthusiasm. Half of Americans (50%) express optimism about the stock market in 2024 and 46% feel the same way about the real estate market.

Finally, the outlook for inflation generates the least optimism. Just about 2 in 5 Americans (37%) say they're optimistic about inflation in 2024. Younger generations are slightly more optimistic (44% of Gen Zers and millennials) than older Americans (31% of Gen Xers and 34% of boomers).

Men express more optimism for the coming year

When it comes to the stock market, the real estate market and inflation, men express more optimism than women across the board. Just 46% of women are optimistic about the stock market in 2024, while 55% of men are. Likewise, 43% of women are optimistic about the real estate market and just 33% about inflation. For men, those numbers jump to 50% and 42%, respectively.

This is in line with recent studies that have found men are more optimistic about finances and the economy in general, as they tend to have more positive attitudes toward risk in those areas than women do.

Investing plans for 2024

Many Americans (51%) are planning to invest outside of a retirement plan next year. Stocks (28%), mutual funds (20%) and cryptocurrencies (16%) top the list for investment plans.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Americans with a higher household income were more likely to say they have investing plans for next year. Around 2 in 5 (38%) of those in households with incomes below $50,000 said they are planning to invest outside of retirement accounts in 2024 while 63% of those in households earning over $100,000 say the same.

Cryptocurrencies, bonds and real estate (non-primary residences) were all more likely to show up as investments for younger generations. Just 3% of baby boomers and 14% of Gen Xers say they're planning to put money in crypto compared to 24% of Gen Zers and 31% of millennials.

While men are more likely than women to invest outside of retirement plans in 2024 (63% of men say they'll make some investment next year compared to 40% of women), the difference in cryptocurrency was especially stark. Men (23%) were twice as likely as women (10%) to say they plan to invest in crypto next year.

“The average annual stock market return measured by the S&P 500 is 10%. Relying on this benchmark may be a better bet than trying to time the market or putting too many eggs into risky investment baskets,” says Elizabeth Ayoola, personal finance writer at NerdWallet. “Investors should also remember that the two potential pillars of success when it comes to investing include a diverse portfolio and consistency. By doing both, the average rate of return and compound interest may help yield positive results.”

Tax-advantaged investing

Three out of five Americans (60%) say they plan to invest in some sort of tax-advantaged account in 2024. Employer-provided retirement plans led the list, with 34% reporting they’ll invest in a 401(k) or similar plan. Roth IRAs (18%), IRAs (16%) and Roth 401(k) plans (14%) filled out the top four.

Millennials (46%) and Gen Xers (43%) were more likely than both Gen Zers (31%) and baby boomers (20%) to say they have plans to invest in a traditional 401(k). Millennials and Gen Xers also make up the bulk of the U.S. workforce, accounting for close to three-quarters of working Americans, according to Purdue Global.

Gen Zers (24%) and millennials (22%) are more likely to say they'll invest in Roth 401(k)s, a product that was only introduced in 2006, than Gen Xers (10%) or Boomers (5%).

“There isn’t a minimum age for retirement planning and it is often beneficial to start saving early,” says Ayoola. “To get the most out of compound interest — when your money earns money — it’s important to start investing in tax-advantaged accounts now. Consider starting where you are with what you can afford and increasing contributions incrementally.”

Men are more likely than women to invest in tax-advantaged accounts in 2024. About two-thirds of men (66%) say they'll invest next year, while just 55% of women say the same thing. Education savings accounts (e.g., 529 education savings accounts, Coverdell accounts, etc.) are the only accounts that will be used evenly by both genders in 2024 — 13% of men and 13% of women report plans to invest in one.

Tax-advantaged accounts also grow in popularity as household income increases. About two in five households (41%) making under $50,000 per year say they have investing plans. That jumps to 75% for households making $100,000 or more annually. In addition, 52% of households earning $50,0000-$74,999 per year say they plan to invest in tax-advantaged accounts, and 67% of those making $75,000-$99,999 say the same.

Comfort with investing products and strategies

We asked respondents to rate their comfort level with different investment products and strategies. Retirement planning (64%) was the topic respondents most commonly said they were very comfortable or somewhat comfortable with. Stock investing (49%) came in second, real estate investing (43%) third, annuities (39%) fourth, and cryptocurrency investing (30%) rounded out the group.

Men were uniformly more likely to say they are comfortable with investing topics, with large gaps in stock investing (58% of men versus 41% of women) and cryptocurrency investing (39% of men versus 22% of women).

Generational attitudes and comfort

Aside from cryptocurrency investing, younger generations are also more likely to say they're comfortable with stocks, real estate and annuity investing.

Younger generations are much more comfortable with cryptocurrency than their older counterparts. Close to half of both Gen Zers (45%) and millennials (54%) say they're comfortable with crypto, while 27% of Gen Xers and just 6% of boomers say the same.

Surprisingly, millennials (48%) are more likely than any other generation, including boomers (31%), to say they're comfortable with annuities. According to financial research firm Limra, the average annuity buyer is in their early 60s — about two decades older than the oldest millennials.

Trusted sources of information

Financial advisors (56%) top the list of trusted sources of investment advice. This was true of every generation except Gen Z (41%), who say they trust their families (56%) more. Family came in second for every other generation.

Social media influencers, who came in near the bottom of the overall ranking, are trusted by 20% of Gen Z and 16% of millennials. That crashes to 8% of Gen X and less than 1% of boomers. Media personalities garnered a similar reaction, with Gen Z (14%) and millennials (12%) more likely than Gen X (6%) and boomers (1%) to trust them for advice.

Financial websites (20%), magazines or newspapers (15%), and coworkers (11%) filled in the middle of the pack. Finally, a fair chunk of Americans (15%) say there's no one they trust for investment advice.

“The wrong financial advice can derail your financial goals, so finding trustworthy financial sources is critical,” says Ayoola. “Consider vetting financial sources before using them. That means fact-checking information, getting second opinions, asking for referrals, checking reviews and sticking to credible resources.”

Consumer takeaways

Don't forget all the tax-advantaged options available to you. Our study found that, while most Americans are planning to invest in some kind of retirement account, there are still plenty of folks who aren't yet.

Retirement plans like 401(k)s, IRAs and Roth IRAs can help you optimize your tax bill now and in the future. Properly understanding and using these accounts can help ensure you have a retirement plan in place that will take care of your needs.

Focus on the long game to keep up your optimism. Investing comes with ups and downs, but over the long haul, the ups often win out. By focusing on long-term investing, you can use strategies like dollar-cost averaging to avoid playing the market timing game. While you may think things are bleak over the next six months, year or even decade, it's unlikely they'll always be that way.

Not every investment is perfect for every investor. There's a dramatic difference between the way investors should think about money they’ll need in five years and the way they should think about money they won't need for 20 years. By making a plan for your money, you can decide what mix of risk and liquidity is right for you. Not everyone needs to opt for high-risk investments, but everyone should be considering how their money can outpace inflation and grow over time.

Methodology

This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet from Nov. 7-9, 2023, among 2,042 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. The sampling precision of Harris online polls is measured by using a Bayesian credible interval. For this study, the sample data is accurate to within +/- 2.7 percentage points using a 95% confidence level. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact [email protected].

Disclaimer

NerdWallet disclaims, expressly and impliedly, all warranties of any kind, including those of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose or whether the article’s information is accurate, reliable or free of errors. Use or reliance on this information is at your own risk, and its completeness and accuracy are not guaranteed. The contents in this article should not be relied upon or associated with the future performance of NerdWallet or any of its affiliates or subsidiaries. Statements that are not historical facts are forward-looking statements that involve risks and uncertainties as indicated by words such as “believes,” “expects,” “estimates,” “may,” “will,” “should” or “anticipates” or similar expressions. These forward-looking statements may materially differ from NerdWallet’s presentation of information to analysts and its actual operational and financial results.

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