Maybe Baby Boomers Won’t Tank the Stock Market by Cashing Out

The common wisdom has been that retirees will liquidate their holdings in securities and real estate to fund their old age.

The enormous Baby Boomer generation, oft-described as a swallowed pig moving through a python, could harm investment markets as they cash out shares and bonds to fund their retirement. The same concern extends to the residential real estate market—as they downsize their homes.

How big a threat is this to institutional investors, which depend on these traditional asset classes to provide for pension beneficiaries and meet other obligations?

By 2040, the number of people older than 65 in the U.S. is expected to increase to almost 21.6% of the country’s population, up from about 16% in 2018, per the U.S. Administration on Aging. With the aging of America, people over 70 now own the most stocks and mutual funds, 33% as of 2021, versus 22% in 2006, Federal Reserve stats show.

The International Monetary Fund described an unpleasant scenario of an aging population in a 2014 paper: “As retirement approaches, individuals become less willing to tolerate investment risks, so they begin to sell off stocks. Thus, the aging of the Baby Boomers and the broader shift of age distribution in the population should have a negative effect on capital markets.” Over the past 10 years, however, that did not happen.

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What about the next 10 years or more? The dire Boomer cash-out scenario strikes a number of strategists as implausible. “They’ll take the money out gradually,” says Salvatore Capizzi, executive vice president at investment advisory firm Dunham & Associates Investment Counsel. In the late 1980s, “when I got started, we expected people to live until 80. They live a lot longer now. If you retire now at 65, you have another 40 years, another lifetime.”

Encouragingly, there are enough younger folks to possibly offset any Boomer cash-outs. The two generations behind the Boomers are not small and, if history is any guide, those groups will increasingly buy securities and housing, Capizzi argues.

Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) constitute 20.6% of the population, while Generation X (1965-1980) is not far behind at 19.6% and millennials (1981-1996) are ahead with 21.7%, according to Statista. Just coming into adulthood, Generation Z (1997-2012) is also a slightly larger cohort than Boomers.

Another factor is the ongoing influx of immigrants. “Immigration has always been one of the engines of growth,” says Luca Paolini, chief strategist at Pictet Asset Management.

It helps that immigrants often are younger than Americans born in this country, thus the newcomers are more likely to start businesses—and invest in securities and real estate. “One offset to an aging population could be increased immigration, especially of younger people,” notes Bob Jacksha, CIO at New Mexico Educational Retirement Board. But he adds that immigration lately is a fraught political topic, and so “the future of that factor is quite difficult to gauge.”

Immigrants often have more children than the native-born, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, and that’s a net-net advantage for the U.S. Thus, as Seamus Smyth, chief economist at Virtus Investment Partners, points out, “The U.S. has higher fertility and more immigration” than elsewhere in the West.

Demographics have the potential to affect different asset classes differently. Some of those changes are as follows:


To Larry Kochard, co-CIO, Makena Capital Management, “Because people are living into their 90s,” they are more open to hanging onto stocks in later years. “Stocks give the best performance and are the best at countering inflation.”

Over the past five years, the S&P 500 has increased 73%, and in the past 12 months has climbed 28%. The Consumer Price Index was up 3.5% for the 12-month period. At the same time, foreign purchases of U.S. stocks have remained vigorous, although down a bit lately due to the strong dollar, which makes them more expensive than most overseas issues.

The aging of the population also presents opportunities for investors who are not in or close to retirement, as well as Boomers, obviously. Health care industry stocks, which rose 9% annually over the past five years, and artificial intelligence, up 6.3%, are good equity sectors to be in, said a report by Goldman Sachs Asset Management.

Health care stocks, of course, are propelled by an aging population—which uses more health care goods and services than do younger cohorts—and advances in medicine. AI companies benefit from the technology’s prospect of running much of the world in the future.

AI also could have profound workforce implications, as it could automate up to a quarter of all U.S. jobs by 2034, although ultimately this trend would boost economic growth by 0.4% due to greater efficiency, per another Goldman report. Meantime, services often used by older adults, such as assisted living facilities and travel, seem obvious investment choices as populations age.

In emerging markets, stocks show a lot of promise because EM populations are younger than in developed countries, which should help these economies grow, and provide a ready cohort to bid up share prices. For U.S. investors, places such as Turkey (its stock index doubled over the past 12 months) and India (up 22%) could be good places to invest, Goldman advised.

Goldman contended that up-and-coming EMs “offer attractive diversification opportunities for investors exposed to aging population dynamics,” meaning institutional investors in search of good returns should flock to them—something they have not done thus far. EM assets are just 5% of U.S. public pension plans, far down from the 11% weighting in the MSCI All Country World Index.

Market growth does have its limits for older investors, though. The problem is that many of the elderly have little money—10% of those 65-plus are below the poverty line—so stock-centric assets likely won’t  end up being a boon for all older Americans.


To Goldman, bonds will fluctuate as different cohorts grow older. In the U.S., the wave of Baby Boomer retirements indicates potentially higher long-term yields over the next 10 to15 years. And that is not good news for bond prices, which move in the opposite direction.

Reason: Fewer Boomers will be buying bonds, in coming years, as they already have enough. Once younger generations start purchasing bonds, they “could exert downward pressure on the 10-year Treasury yield by 2050,” Goldman projected. But then, “rates could rise again in the second half of the century as millennials retire.”


N. Gregory Mankiw, a Harvard economics professor, famously predicted in a 1989 paper that the giant Baby Boomer generation would inflate the housing market, and the converse would occur when they retired and sold their homes. Hence, housing would lose value.

For allocators that invest in housing via mortgage-backed securities, any downturn in value would not help MBS pricing. On the other hand, risks of MBS default remain low as government-sponsored agencies such as Fannie Mae issue almost all of those securities.

But a Boomer housing retreat is not what is taking place. A large majority of Boomers (78%) said they want to stay in their current homes, according to a recent survey by real estate brokerage Redfin. Says Virtus’ Smyth, “Mankiw was wrong.”

Why move? Home prices are very high, partly thanks to a supply constraint: Less housing got built after the shock of the global financial crisis, which was propelled by an over-supply of residential real estate, and by the debt used to buy it. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index plunged from right before the 2008 crisis, then gradually recovered until the pandemic hit in 2020. Over the past four years, it is off about 40%.

Adding impetus for Boomers to stay where they are: rising mortgage rates, linked to the Federal Reserve’s tightening campaign starting in March 2022. The average 30-year mortgage rate has more than doubled since then, to 7.17%.

More broadly, the prospect of swelling retirement ranks has spurred questions about how society can pay for all the Boomers, whether via Social Security, whose trust fund is dwindling, or public pension plans, many of them underfunded. A lot of Americans have not saved enough for retirement.

One move aimed at easing this burden that has gotten a lot of attention: A suggestion from Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, that the official retirement age be increased, thus lessening the strain on Social Security. At the same time, such a move potentially would raise the age at which Americans must start drawing down their tax-deferred retirement accounts, giving them more time to expand their nest eggs. The implications for public pensions would be unclear, as their benefits often are mandated by law.

For allocators, today’s retirees and tomorrow’s, the stakes are immense. Demographics, the saying goes, is destiny. For investors, it’s a huge influence to watch.

Related Stories:

The Longevity Question 

Working Past 65 Redefines Portfolios and Retirement 

Longer Life Expectancy Puts Pressure on Global Pension Systems



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