Surprise: Even affluent retirees live on Social Security and pensions

Where do affluent retirees get their income? Portfolios invested in stocks and bonds, you might think – but you’d be wrong. Turns out many are living mainly on Social Security and good old pensions.

That’s the surprising finding of new research from a surprising source: Vanguard, a leading provider of retirement saving products like individual retirement accounts and 401(k)s. Vanguard studied the income sources and wealth holdings ofw more than 2,600 older households (age 60-79) with at least $100,000 in retirement savings. The respondents’ median income was $69,500, with median financial assets of $395,000. (The value of housing was excluded.)

The researchers were looking for answers to a mysterious question about the behavior of more affluent retirement account owners: Why do few of them draw down their savings? They found that nearly half the aggregate wealth of these households comes from the two mothers of all guaranteed income programs, Social Security (28 percent) and traditional defined-benefit pensions (20 percent).

The median annual income for these households is $22,000 from Social Security, with an additional $20,000 from pensions. Tax-deferred retirement accounts came in third among those who have them, at $13,000 (11 percent).

“Only a small number of the people who have 401(k)s and IRAs are really relying on them as a regular source of income,” said Steve Utkus, director of the Vanguard Center for Retirement Research. “There’s a lot more income from pensions than we expected,” he adds.

Learn more at Reuters Money.