Middle-income workers are less likely to receive the full benefit of their 401(k) plans, according to a study by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company. While 84 percent of middle-income Americans are contributing up to the full employer match, income was a key determinant among those who did not contribute.

Nearly 90 percent middle-income Americans participate in employer-sponsored retirement plans, but MassMutual’s research shows that savers with higher incomes are far more likely to contribute a higher percentage of their income and take full advantage of matching contributions.

"It highlights the need for more education, especially about available strategies to help make retirement savings more affordable for more people,” said Tom Foster, national spokesperson for MassMutual’s Workplace Solutions.

The study of 1,010 Americans with annual household income of between $35,000 and $150,000 reveals higher-income savers are more likely to save a greater percentage of their income in a retirement savings account than those who earned less. Seven in 10 respondents with less than $45,000 in household income said they cannot afford to save for retirement, while those with incomes 45,000 or more were three times more likely to save 15 percent or more.

Overall, 43 percent of study respondents say they contribute at least 5 percent and up to 9 percent of their income. However, lower income workers were twice as likely to forgo contributing to their 401(k) altogether. The reasons for that included a lack of a competitive employer-match or no match (23 percent), independent retirement savings outside of the employer’s plan (14 percent), and a preference to utilize retirement savings that would allow greater access to the money (14 percent).

“Employers and financial advisors need to help educate workers—especially those who may see savings as unaffordable—to find dollars and then make the most of them,” Foster said.

Employers can be instrumental in educating their employees on strategies that would lead to maximum retirement savings. According to the study, three in 10 middle-income workers say they wish their employer offered more retirement planning, and one in five would like help with their retirement investments.