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Fourth Quarter 2014, 
Vol. 96, No. 4
Posted 2014-12-15

Toward Healthy Balance Sheets: Are Savings Accounts a Gateway to Young Adults’ Asset Diversification and Accumulation?

by Terri Friedline, Paul Johnson, and Robert Hughes

Understanding the balance sheets of today’s young adults—particularly the factors that set them on a path to financial security through asset diversification and accumulation—lends some insight into the balance sheets they will have when they are older. This study uses panel data from the Census Bureau’s 1996 Survey of Income and Program Participation to investigate the acquisition of a savings account as a gateway to asset diversification and accumulation for young adults. Two avenues were considered: The first emphasized ownership of a diverse portfolio of financial products, and the second emphasized the accumulated value of liquid assets. Almost half of the surveyed young adults owned a savings account (43 percent) and approximately 3 percent acquired a savings account over the course of the panel. (Older, nonwhite, or unemployed participants were significantly less likely to acquire an account.) Those who owned or acquired a savings account also had more diverse asset portfolios. Evidence suggests that young adults who acquire a savings account and diversify their asset portfolios may also accumulate more liquid assets over time, which can be leveraged in the future to strengthen their balance sheets.