updated 10/30/2007 7:25:41 PM ET 2007-10-30T23:25:41

Nearly one-third of baby boomers ages 51 to 61 are at risk of not having enough in savings to finance a comfortable retirement, according to a study being released Tuesday by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

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With its analysis, the center has joined the national debate over how much savings is enough — and has done so on the side that says there's a shortfall.

"We just don't believe people are saving too much," Alicia H. Munnell, a professor of management sciences at Boston College and director of the retirement research center, told The Associated Press.

A recently published academic study looked at the retirement preparedness of Americans who were in their 50s in 1992 and concluded that at least 80 percent had more than enough assets for retirement. Other scientists have argued that Americans may be saving too much.

The new Boston College study evaluated the same 51-61 age group, but looked at their finances in 2004, and found 32 percent to be "at risk" for not being able to maintain their preretirement standing of living in retirement.

The difference between the results, the center said, has to do with changes in the financial environment. For one thing, Americans now must wait until they're older than 65 to collect full Social Security benefits; meanwhile, lower interest rates mean they'll probably collect less on annuities and other investments. And many of today's workers do not have pensions like the earlier generation but must rely on worker-funded 401(k) retirement accounts, the center said.

Munnell said Americans have two choices — to save more or to work longer.

For older people, "working just two years more ... can make a substantial difference" to retirement preparedness, she said.

"Working longer has a powerful effect because it shortens the period over which you have to support yourself and ... lets you put off tapping your 401(k) and collect higher Social Security benefits," she said.

The study was done using the center's National Retirement Risk Index, developed with funding from Nationwide Financial, the long-term savings and retirement product division of the Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.

Keith Millner, senior vice president and head of Nationwide Financial's in-retirement division, said "there is a retirement crisis" because people are living longer, health care costs are escalating and workers aren't saving enough.

"The No. 1 issue is inertia — people aren't doing anything," he said. "They need to get educated, get engaged."

Young workers especially can benefit from saving more because of the impact of compounding, he said.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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