The percentage of people saving for retirement in 2001 decreased to 71%, compared with 75% in 2000, according to the 2001 Retirement Confidence Survey, which gauges workers' attitudes toward retirement planning. It was the first decline in savings rates since 1998.

The change in behavior can be attributed to recent drops in consumer confidence, employment, the economy and the equity markets, according to Washington, D.C.-based Employee Benefit Research Institute, a sponsor of the survey.

The results represent the opinions of 1,000 people age 25 and older interviewed by telephone in January and February 2001.

Confidence about security in retirement took an even bigger hit. This year, only 63% of workers felt confident they will have enough money to live comfortably in retirement, compared with 72% in 2000.

However, fewer respondents say they have done calculations to measure their financial readiness for retirement. Less than half, at 46%, have tried to determine how much money they need to save, down from 51% in 2000.

Workers with higher household incomes or more formal education are more likely than those with lower incomes and less education to have attempted a retirement savings need calculation.

“Half the workers who say they did a savings-need calculation say they changed their retirement planning as a result,” says Don Blandin, president of American Savings Education Council, another survey sponsor. Most increased their savings or adjusted their allocations.

Overall, six in 10 respondents now say they are behind schedule when it comes to planning and saving for retirement — compared with 54% in 2000.