03/28/2008 02:45 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

High Anxiety For 401(k) Investors

As Americans increasingly link their well-being to financial markets, the possibility of recession and a slump on Wall Street has taken on new meaning for the middle class, including baby boomers who are approaching retirement age.

Some 50 million workers now participate in 401(k)-type savings plans, a number that has shot up since 2000 as employers increasingly stop offering traditional pensions.

Similarly, 46 million households hold a stake in the tax-advantaged savings plans known as individual retirement accounts, according to the Investment Company Institute.

The result is a historic linkage between the fortunes of the public and Wall Street, just as older baby boomers -- now past 60 -- focus more seriously on the living standards that await in their post-work years.

"You've been saving all these years," said Pamela Hess, director of retirement research at Hewitt Associates. "You've got quite a big nest egg, potentially. The stakes are just so much higher when you're that much closer to retirement."

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