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New Study: American Lives Underinsured by an Average of $1.2 Million

August 19, 2013

Survey finds many consumers willing to pay for sufficient life insurance, but remain passive

Columbus, Ohio - According to a new survey by Nationwide Financial, 98 percent of consumers who are married, partnered or have dependents, lack enough life insurance coverage to replace their income. The average consumer surveyed will earn approximately $1.5 million before they retire and currently holds about $300,000 in life insurance coverage, leaving them about $1.2 million short of replacing their income with life insurance.

“Too many Americans make the mistake of assuming that simply providing what may appear to be a large lump sum of money for their beneficiaries will be enough to protect them,” said Eric Henderson, senior vice president of life insurance and annuities for Nationwide Financial. “Instead, they should think about how much of their income the insurance money will replace. If it doesn’t replace a high percentage of it, their family faces the risk of financial disruption or a reduced standard of living. It’s simple math, and it doesn’t add up for 49 out of 50 of those we surveyed.”

According to the survey, many consumers are willing to pay enough to close or reduce this income replacement gap; however the average life insurance policy currently replaces just 16 percent of the income the insured person will earn before retirement. Despite the fact that one-third (33 percent) said their most important consideration when purchasing life insurance was replacing their income, only 2 percent have actually done so completely.

“Filling a $1.2 million income replacement gap without life insurance is a tall order for surviving family members when you consider late life expenses such as college, weddings, retirement, health care and long-term care,” Henderson said. “The good news is that an affordable solution may be available for consumers of nearly any income level.”

Affordable solution

Consumers surveyed said they are willing to pay $99 per month on average to ensure their family can maintain its standard of living indefinitely following the death of a bread winner. For this amount, a healthy 35-year-old man can purchase a 20-year term life policy worth more than $2.3 million.1 A healthy 35-year-old woman can purchase more than $2.6 million in coverage.1 This is more than is needed to wipe out the average life insurance income replacement gap.

“It’s common for Americans to insure the entire value of their largest assets,” Henderson said. “For most of us, the income we will earn before retirement is far more significant to the financial well-being of our family than any material possession. The cost for enough life insurance to replace this income may be less than you spend to insure your home or car. A lack of understanding of the true cost of life insurance may be part of the reason for such widespread consumer inaction.”

Less than three in ten (29 percent) believe they can afford enough life insurance to replace their household income, however, according to the Life Insurance Marketing and Research Association (LIMRA), consumers generally overestimate the cost of life insurance by nearly three times.2


Consumers have varying levels of confidence in their life insurance plan. Two-thirds (66 percent) of those who have life insurance are somewhat or very certain they have enough insurance to replace the income they or their spouse/partner would generate for the remainder of their working careers. Just over half (55 percent) think they could replace their spouse or partner’s income.

“Many Americans have the false perception that they have an adequate life insurance plan in place,” Henderson said. “When they actually do the math, the true picture may become clearer, and hopefully motivate action.”

Despite this relative confidence, when asked how long their family could maintain its standard of living if a breadwinner died, six in ten (62 percent) either don't know, or think they could do so for just four years or less. Just over one-third (36 percent) of respondents believe their family could adequately fund the retirement of the surviving spouse or partner.

The role of agents and advisors

Just over one in three (35 percent) consumers worked with an insurance agent or financial advisor to figure out how much life insurance coverage they need. One in five (20 percent) simply guessed how much coverage they needed.

“Advisors and insurance agents may be able to motivate clients by helping them understand the implications of their income replacement gap,” Henderson said. “We know that consumers don’t respond well to scare tactics, however, they may be relieved to learn that the solution is not as scary as they may expect. Even if they don’t feel compelled to buy enough life insurance to replace all of their income, most consumers can afford enough to put a significant dent in their income replacement gap. That’s at least a step in the right direction.”

Nationwide Financial offers a free life insurance calculator to help consumers figure out how much coverage they need: An info graphic illustrating the results of this study is available at:

Nationwide Financial’s Life Insurance/Income Replacement Study was conducted online by Harris Interactive, March 15 to March 21, 2013. The respondents were comprised of 1,163 U.S. adults, ages 24-66 that are currently married/partnered and/or have dependents, are not retired, and have household incomes of $24,000 or more. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

About Nationwide

Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, based in Columbus, Ohio, is one of the largest and strongest diversified insurance and financial services organizations in the U.S. and is rated A+ by both A.M. Best and Standard & Poor’s. The company provides customers a full range of insurance and financial services, including auto insurance, motorcycle, boat, homeowners, pet, life insurance, farm, commercial insurance, annuities, mortgages, mutual funds, pensions, long-term savings plans and specialty health services. For more information, visit

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