Young, mass affluent workers have started to save aggressively for retirement much sooner than did the baby boom generation, according to the spring Merrill Edge Report.

Generation Y workers between the ages of 18 and 34, and with between $50,000 and $250,000 in annual income, have saved an average of $55,000 and started saving at an average age of 22, 13 years sooner than the average baby boomer, Merrill Edge says. The report is based on a survey of 1,013 U.S. workers.

“Many mass affluent, particularly young investors, are focusing on their retirement goals by saving earlier and planning now for the lifestyle they want [in] retirement,” says Alok Prasad, head of Merrill Edge. “As markets continue to improve and the mass affluent invest optimistically for the future, they will seek tools and guidance that help them best pursue their long-term retirement goals.”

Gen Y workers are optimistic about their retirement savings potential and believe they will save nearly $2.5 million for their retirement, compared to those 51 to 64 years of age, who anticipate saving $260,000. Fifty-four percent of boombers have less than $150,000 saved, according to Merrill.

Of the Gen Y respondents, 77 percent are planning to contribute to their retirement nest egg over the next 12 months. Fifty-seven percent of the younger generation say they will invest more in the stock market in the coming year, while only 25 percent of the respondents aged 51 to 64 say they will invest more in the stock market.

About half of the Gen Y responders expect to partially rely on government programs to fund their retirement, compared to 68 percent of those 51 to 64 years of age, who say they will partially rely on public programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

Only 28 percent are relying on any of the equity in their homes to fund their retirement.

Parents apparently are not willing to compromise their retirement to fund their children’s education. Seventeen percent did not save or will not save for their childrens’ college education and half of the mass affluent parents will or have saved $20,000 or less. Only 22 percent of parents who are saving or did save for their childrens’ education say they would be willing to significantly cut back on retirement funds to do so.

The mass affluent respondents’ feelings about debt reflect optimism about the future, according to Merrill Edge. Fifty-five percent believe they will have less debt over the next 10 years than they do now and 67 percent of that group says they will bring down their debt by living a more frugal lifestyle.